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.

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.

…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…

A D800 Review to Remember

My favorite of the series of “NikonJin’s” commentary photos on the D800 (from the Facebook page, link below)

We all get very serious about hardware, so it is refreshing to see something that is not only on-point and informative but really funny and creative as well.  Go check out the post about the D800 on NikonJin’s FaceBook page or on DPReview…

http://www.facebook.com/NikonJin

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1021&message=41439982

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…

Trey Ratcliff Reconsiders!

Trey's new whip (from the Nikon home page)

Trey Ratcliff changed his mind and is getting a D800! The demise of his D3x due to salt spray during a Hawaii shoot and the sheer value of the D800 at $3K caused him to reconsider and dive in!

The D800 is almost custom-built for someone like Trey – huge resolution, great dynamic range and a much lighter body to haul around to all the exotic places he goes! (and it sounds like he’s going to be moving to New Zealand, which means he’s going to be living in a rich tapestry!)

I hope he buys two D800s and offers his D3s to me cheap!

Any readers out there getting a D800?

Filling the Void: Nikon D400 Wishes

Now that we’re safely past the D800 and D4 announcements, all eyes turn to Nikon for the third piece of the trifecta, the successor to the D300s: the D400 (at least that what I assume they’ll call it).

Honestly, I thought the announcement of the D7000 in the Fall of 2010 really made the D300s look a bit long in the tooth. The D300s was only a year old, a light update to the D300 announced two years before that, but it was outclassed by the D7000 is several areas – ISO performance, dynamic range, resolution and more. Only the fully pro build, a deeper buffer and Nikon’s best auto-focus system gave the D300s an edge. I actually value the auto-focus performance more than the megapixels and even the ISO performance: Low light capability and dynamic range don’t matter much of the shot is fuzzy.

But D7000 had pretty darn good auto-focus and a big step forward in metering, which put the D300s under fire almost immediately. A lot of pros and BIF shooters didn’t care – the D300s was a pro tool, had a deep buffer and served the purpose well.  Some hopped on the D7K and liked it a lot.

But we’re now 18 months beyond the D7000 announcement, and the D300s doesn’t look like a camera worth anything close to its $1699 on-line price (B&H, etc.). Nikon’s recent sorta-announcement of the D700 at $2199 also puts pressure at the relative price point. And the D7000 sits at $1299. Nowhere for the D300s to go…

Thom Hogan said somewhere that you’re either a DX shooter or an FX shooter. Generally I agree with that, but I really sorta want a blend. I love the image quality of the D700, and I love the reach of DX. So what am I looking for in the D400?

  • Resolution: Honestly, I don’t really care. In today’s spec-war environment, megapixels are going to be more than the 12MP of the D300s. I’ll take anything from the D7000 resolution of 16MP all the way up to the rumored 24MP that is out there. Beyond that, the burden on my PC and storage is more than I want.
  • ISO Performance and Dynamic Range: I’d really love to have the ISO/low light performance of the D700 with the Dynamic Range of the D7000. Honestly, I don’t know how these things trade off against each other, but we’re talking wishes here, right?
  • Auto-focus and Metering: Since I’m going hybrid, I want the D700 auto-focus with the new metering ushered in with the D7000. We’re talking about a pro-class body, so this needs to be the good stuff!
  • Other stuff: This is the D300s replacement, so the build, buffer capacity should be consistent with that product. I love the concept of the U1/U2 buttons from the D7000, which let you store a whole set of camera settings. Video should be as good as the D7000. USB 3.0 would usher it into the 21st century. I’d like to see the same seven frames-per-second performance of the D300s as well. I’d prefer dual SD card slots, but Nikon seems to prefer one Compact Flash and one SD card in this category, so I could live with that.
  • Oh – and price: Keep it at $1799 list.

As I said in my Open Letter to Nikon post about the perfect Enthusiast Photographer Full Frame camera (which is nicely answered with the existing D700 reduced to $2199), I’d love to see a market research site that would let you design your perfect camera, trading price and weight for features. It would be a really cool way to gather some information, plus get some other ideas for features.

Readers: Do you want a D400 or whatever the heck a D7100 is? What features aren’t on cameras that you’d like to see?

Never say never…

Trey's D3x was a terrific tool that captured photos like this.

Trey Ratcliff, the HDR whiz and founder of Stuck in Customs recently tempted the fates with a bold statement and is now paying the price.  Earlier this year, Trey declared DSLR’s are going the way of the floppy disk and stated he wouldn’t be buying the then-upcoming Nikon D4 or D800 (my take on that can be found here).  Of course that meant that on a recent shoot in Hawaii, his D3x got ruined.  Ouch.

Make no mistake, I’m a huge fan of Trey’s work, so I’m not implying I’m glad it happened, but I can barely utter a hopeful word about traffic without regional gridlock descending on my route to work. Trey waved a red cape at a bull named Karma, and everyone knows what happens when you do that!

But seriously, Trey put more miles and good use on that D3x than just about anyone, and I’m bummed to hear about the camera giving up the ghost.  I’m sure he looks at it pragmatically:  it is a piece of equipment.

The question is, what tool replaces his D3x?  He’s made a few possibly joking references to trying out Canon, but the additional cost of lenses and the interchangeability factor make that unlikely.

Personally, I think Trey is the perfect customer for a D800 – it is a lot closer to his D3x in terms of what he’s interested in (high megapixels, core ISO performance, etc.) and it will save him a fair bit of weight in his bag, too!  The D4 is really more of a replacement of his backup camera, the D3s – the low light performance and somewhat larger resolution probably aren’t what he’s looking for.

If I were in Trey’s shoes, I’d probably be tempted to do both – the D800 to replace the dead D3x and the D4 to replace the D3s, just to lighten his load a little further and have the improved video capabilities.  It is always easier to spend other people’s money… 😉

I’ll be interested to see what he decides!  What do you think he should do?

D700 – Dead or Alive??

Nikon’s answer to my question “Where’s My full-frame” camera is apparently the D700. Or is it?

Last week there was a lot of hoopla on the internet with rumors of the D700 list price dropping to $2199 (from $2699). As usual, chippiness on the internet ensued, with many insisting Nikon wouldn’t do that, didn’t have any D700’s to sell at that price or some other D700/D800 declaration. It amazes me how many people on the internet make statements that seem to say they have direct knowledge of volumes and industry data (e.g. “the D700 killed the volumes of the D3” or “there aren’t enough D700’s to sell to make $2199 a real market price”).

Well, I disagree with the fist-pumpers that say the D700 is gone sooner than later, for a couple key reasons. First, I think it is a smart thing to do, but secondly, they might not have a choice. Let me explain.

As I’ve mentioned before, my day-job has been in the technology industry for over twenty years, and I closely followed it for years before that. I’ve worked in product management for many years, which has given me a fair bit of insight and knowledge about how development, testing, manufacturing, marketing, etc. work when it comes to PC’s and peripherals. I can’t say my experience and understanding is directly analogous to cameras, but I’d bet things aren’t too much different.

When I say Nikon didn’t have much of a choice to keep the D700 in production, I mean exactly that. More than likely, Nikon had very long lead-time commitments and minimum volumes on a variety of expensive components on the D700. In other words, they probably owned the parts even if their production at Sendai was severely limited by the tsunami and the effects on the area. On top of that, the costs of tooling and manufacturing equipment is amortized over the expected volumes of the product. Net: They need to keep the program whole to make their money, and they probably owned a lot of the critical parts. The alternative to continued production was likely a huge financial write-down, which probably wasn’t attractive given the impacts of the Tsunami in Japan as well as the Thailand floods, which disrupted other parts of Nikon’s business.

The assembly lines for these kinds of things don’t require as much space as you might think, and are actually somewhat portable – in other words, they could pretty easily make room for the D800 production lines in the buildings where they are making the D700. Their main concern is enough power and reliable power (the power production in the area was said to be erratic, which manufacturing lines don’t tolerate well).

If Nikon can the lights on and the machines running, there isn’t any reason at all they can’t run full-scale D700 and D800 production concurrently. They’ve had enough time to prepare and get the planning done, workers in place, etc and lots of incentives to do it. Barring some kind of component shortage, I could easily see them keeping the D700 around a while, just like the D90. Why not? It gets rid of the parts they likely are committed to, pays for the tooling and manufacturing lines and essentially fulfills the financial promise the D700 team made to the company.

Then there are the reasons I think it is a smart thing for Nikon to keep the D700 in the family. It fills a price cell they don’t currently address and makes Canon a little uncomfortable as they try to compete with the D700 @ $2199 and the D800 at $2999 with the 5dMKIII @ $3499. In the days since, Canon has reduced the 5dMkII to $2199 as well. Maybe Nikon and Canon will even get an idea of whether an “entry” FX platform is truly viable without having to invest in entirely new products, not to mention creating something that is distanced enough feature-wise from the D800 that it isn’t going to drag on that product (in my opinion).

Personally, I’d love a D3s sensor in a D700 body (detailed in my Open Letter to Nikon…). I’d start selling blood and light up eBay with everything I could find lying around to get one. In the meantime, I think you’ll see D700’s available in moderate volumes. Only time will tell, and even then it will validated only by perception/word of mouth – all these chippy guys who make all these bold statements about shipping numbers never seem to produce any source for their information. I wish Nikon did release more data – it would be fascinating. In the meantime, it will also be interesting to see how long Canon keeps the 5dMkII around – I doubt they intended to do that, so who knows how well they’ve been able to source the components necessary to continue production.

If you’re judging from stock at B&H, you can get the Canon 5dMKII right now, while the Nikon D700 says “Backordered”…

What do you think?  Is the D700 going to be around for a while like the D90 has been since the D7000 has announced, or is the $2199 thing just a short-term blip?