Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nikon's new Df body; Need it or not?

What a brilliant camera, released two years too late! THIS is what I wanted as a D800 body; robust build, dedicated manual controls with a menu system still available for increased flexibility, backwards and forwards lens system compatibility, quick and precise AF, and no stink in' video. I'm sorry, but from what I've seen of DSLR video on my D600, my 15 year old Sony Handycam focused better. Sure it's got higher resolution by far (1080p) than my old Sony, but what good does it do when the lens is constantly racking the focus back and forth every time the subject moves a little. Frustrating to use for this non-video guy… I'll stick with taking photos! That said, the Df is basically a D610 in knight's armor, and as a working pro, this has some appeal to me. I loved my old Konica-Minolta 7D bodies (plural, I owned two of them!) and their dedicated controls. That made work in the field so easy and fast. Want to change the ISO, just grab and twist a knob. Exposure compensation? Just a quick twist away. The old KM trumps the Df in the fact that it had built-in image stabilization with every lens, but as I've scrimped and saved enough over the years to be shooting with VR lenses for the most part, this has become a moot point. I'm still not convinced that the free-floating VR does not manage to mess up some shots all on its own. A good tripod still greatly increased the capture rate, and will cost a new shooter thousands of dollars less. Even the most expensive tripod will still be vastly cheaper. I still take a monopod with me to the track. Can't beat it really. So, if the specs are mainly the same, why is it so much more expensive than a D610 (or D600, which is what I'm shooting, along with some carefully placed puffs of air on my sensor to clean off the infamous "dust spots")? What's Nikon's reasoning with this? Magnesium is super-expensive? The Df's 16mp sensor offers 8 less megapixels than a much cheaper D600. Is its ability to gather light that much better? Perhaps. I'd like to get my hands on one for an automotive shoot (hint, hint NPS, I'd like to borrow one please) and see just how dramatic the dynamic range is. Dynamic range is key to successful car photography. Metal and paint and glass tends to reflect every photon of light right into the lens. Miracle coatings on the lenses and ultra-low dispersion glass helps, but only so much. The larger pixel sites on the 16mp sensor should capture better blacks, and better colors overall. That loss of 8mp represents more than my first three camera bodies had each (6.1 seemed to be a de facto starting point for camera designs in 2003 and 2004). 16mp is more than enough. 12.4mp from my veteran D300 has proven to be more than enough to, and in print, I cannot distinguish between D300 and D7100 photos (the D7100 was 24mp, so an apples-to-apples comparison). The D600 can be just slightly distinguished due to the better background blur and less telephoto compression. So, does the D4's sensor justify the price jump all by itself, without as fast a shutter as a D700, or the deeper buffer of the D700? Or the better 51-point AF system from the D3/D700/D4? Or the built-in flash as a dedicated wireless flash controller? Or the dual SDHC card slots of the D600/D610? Hard to say. This appears to be a real photography buff's camera. A throwback to the days of all manual control but with the added convenience of a full compliment of digital controls on the back. It will appeal to people who fear large file sizes and ever-increasing disc storage requirements. It will shoot beautiful photos, of that there is little doubt. Is it a D4 for less than half the money? Most certainly it is not. Will it find traction in today's very competitive market? I don't think so. It's like a six-cylinder sports car; even mighty BMW has abandoned the weary straight-six in favor of more cylinders and increased torque. Megapixels are torque, and Nikon already has a V-8 beast in the form of the 36mp D800 or the even sharper D800e, both of which feature an internal Magnesium frame and weather seals. To toss the Df into this market today seems unfair. Two years ago it would have been as heralded as the D700 was after the D3. An excellent D700 can be had for less than $1,500 now, making the Df's lofty $2,799 price seem, well, princely. By comparison, any D600 is a screaming deal, with the same FPS as the Df, and a host of features which make it work better with the Nikon system. People who have the D600 or D610 won't switch. D800 users will turn up their noses, as it is not significantly faster, nor does it offer dual card slots (remember when NO camera had them, how did we survive the dark ages?) or the pop-up flash. I think this will wind up being an albatross… Meanwhile, the D300/D300S users are screaming for a true pro-level DX-sensor D400 (no the D7100 didn't measure up). Will we get one, ever? I know from shooting cars for a decade that the DX format works very well with car-sized objects. The increase in DOF is nice. The longer reach from a 200mm lens at the track means I can carry less gear and still get shots with the equivalent value of a 300mm lens without the extra weight of the bigger glass. Just by carrying one extra camera body. So, c'mon Nikon… Where's the D400? Will we ever see it? On a side note, I'd like to point out that I've earned three magazine cover shots with my D7100 during the short time I had it, including a full-cover shot on the current Fast Fours & Rotaries of Daniel Song's awesome FRS-GT built for the 2012 Scion Challenge. I liked the D7100, but had issues with my Sigma lenses and the D7100 AF system. I'll be touching upon that in my next post though, so no need to mention it here. Just thought I'd share the news with anyone who happens to read this far through my gear rants! :D Have a great night!

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