I always tell budding photographers to buy the biggest damn tripod they can manage to carry, if they're going to shoot low light photos. I use a hefty Bogen tripod with sturdy aluminum legs and a Manfrotto/Bogen pan/tilt head with the handy quick-release plates. Very secure... I could probably mount a howitzer on it and still have a steady platform! Having a camera with a mirror lock-up function also helps. I used to use this feature consistently with the Konica-Minolta 7D bodies I used (two of them, I liked them so much). I thought I needed to go to a newer, higher megapixel body, so I sold them off and tried a Sony Alpha A700. The stronger AF motor in that body immediately broke AF shaft in my Tamron LD 70-210mm f2.8 lens I'd used for years. On top of that, when I went to the track the next day, in addition to having to manually focus my "long lens" shots, there was a problem with the image sensor, and all of the photos looked "washed out". Finally, the A700's auto-focus system was no where near as good as Konica-Minolta's "Predictive Focus" system. Sure the 7D would only shoot 3.5 frames per second, but you got 3.5 excellent shots each time you pulled the trigger! A man can get used to that sort of treatment. It made photo selection much easier. Just pick the in-focus one with the framing you like!
So... the A700 went back to Best Buy... I bought it when it was new and couldn't afford the Sony 80-200mm f2.8 lens. All of the Minolta "G" lenses had been sold off already. Sigma hadn't released their updated version yet, and I couldn't find another 80-200 Tamron LD anywhere. I was screwed. Since I needed SOMETHING, I dove into the Nikon system. The D700 hadn't been released in March 2008, so I ordered a D300 from Cameta Camera in New York. The first "long lens" I tried came from Best Buy again... a Nikon 80-200mm f2.8D. It had an issue with close focusing.
I take that back... first I bought a D200 used from eBay, only to find out that it had "hot pixels" throughout the imager, and a chromatic abberation/focusing issue. While that camera went to Nikon Service, I ordered the D300 from Cameta Camera. The D200 eventually returned in all of it's 10.2 megapixel glory, but by that time, I'd been won over by the super-saturated colors the D300 had to offer. I couldn't go back... I sold the D200 on eBay and never looked back.
Fast forward to now, and with the Sigma SD-15 on the way any day, and retailers closing out the SD-14 at $349, I bought one. Sigma USA might give me a little lens support, and loan me a few of their nice lenses to try. I'm intrigued by the non-Bayerized direct-captue imager in the SD-14. I've been following it since I first started with my Canon D60 (it was in the SD-9 body then) and 70-200mm f4 "L" and have been intrigued by its potential. I can see the artifacts in the output from the D300, although it's very good. Sharpening is required to fix what the Bayer process "disassembles" from the incoming light, and unfortunately, leaves "sharpening artifacts" if you go too far. Perhaps these aren't as visible in print due to the nature of ink and paper, but they sure are visible on my laptop screen.
Will the SD-14 be better? My 7D bodies were only 6.1 MP and I was routinely earning magazine covers with the sharpness from those big pixels on that DX-sized sensor. What will the sharpness look like once I've got a mirror lock-up function again (the D300 lacks this) and the ability to directly sense all three primary colors at each pixel. To say I'm anxious is an understatement!
Nikon's wireless system has been good, but not quite as good as the KM 7D's wireless flash was. It's not as reliable. Who the hell at Nikon thought that putting the light-trigger sensor on the SIDE of the flash was a great idea? When the flash head can rotate, you put it on the front so that you've got maximum flexibility and rotation either way! Duh. I've made it work (see the Stasis Engineering Audi S5 for proof of that), but it sure could be better. Too many menus between you and the darn flash controls to be fast in the field! Every second wasted in a menu is at least one lost photograph you can't get back during the "magic light". At sunset, we really are "racing daylight" if we're to get all of our photos done during the magic hour!
Still, a good photographer can work what whatever tools he's given. Perhaps I'll buy a Sigma DP-1 if I like the photos from the SD-14, and I'll prove that it's "not the camera, it's the photographer who makes the photos"! Light, composition, framing, focus (LCFF) matters far more than the camera equipment... up to a point. I'll say this just once... a truly life-like photograph typically has impeccable focusing and resolution. If you're aiming to create "art", that's an entirely different story, and Bokeh begins to come into play. For a great PHOTOGRAPH, image resolution is key. If you want to subject to pop out on paper, it's got to be tack-sharp. Sharp enough to cut your finger on the straight lines...
I had that with the Konica-Minolta 7D bodies... but for some reason, not with the Nikon D300 I own. If I can figure out how to get the stupid image-in-post to work, I'll show you a cat photo I snapped with the kit lens the other day which meets my definition of "tack-sharp". In the meantime, check out the yellow Acura NSX below for an excellent example.