Thursday, February 16, 2006

So, where are we headed NOW?

It's now mid-February 2006, and a lot of people are wondering, "Where are we headed NOW?" We are less than two months into the year and already 2006 can be seen as shaping up as perhaps _the_ most tumultuous year in recent photographic industry history. Nikon announced that it is discontinuing the 35mm film camera/large format lens/enlarging lens businesses. Except for the F6 and the Cosina-made FM 10, Nikon is OUT of the film camera making business entirely. Is it any wonder that Nikon is abandoning the film camera/large format lens/enlarging lens fields in an era when shooting any type of 35mm film seems ever more like driving a horse and buggy to work? It's no surprise that Nikon wants out of the enlarger lens and 4x5 and 8x10 view camera lens markets; those two markets are basically DEAD-END,niche markets which can easily be satisfied by other manufacturers or the used equipment market.Used enlarger lenses are almost worthless now that hobby darkrooms all across the developed world are relegated to boxes in garages, and only THE most-serious photographers are using wet darkroom processes.
Minolta teamed up with Konica in 2005,and formed Konica-Minolta; then in January of 2006 Konica-Minolta announced it too was bailing out of the film camera and the digital camera businesses, as well as the photofinishing machine/photo paper/photo chemical businesses that it had. Konica-Minolta announced a few days ago that its entire camera business would be transferred to Sony! Kodak just announced that last year, digital accounted for 54% of its sales. Pentax is now working in cooperation with electronics giant Samsung.The first 45 days of 2006 have seen the announcements of some MAJOR,major changes in the photography and imaging fields.
In addition to the above-noted changes, there are other changes in the wind. Downward price pressures and a maturing and perhaps a saturated market for D-SLRs have brought the prices on the 21 D-SLR models currently on the market lower than ever before and we can expect lower prices as 2006 wears on. Apple Computer has begun shipping its new Aperture software application, in an attempt to extricate $500 from serious Mac-using photographers who are in need of a workflow solution that's not from Adobe or Camera Bits. Adobe has countered with beta versions of Lightroom, a slick-looking and nifty application that will probably find its way into fairly wide use (see for a nice write-up on Lightroom).PMA 2006 is just days away, and some new cameras and other photography products are expected to be announced there. One of _THE_ most highly-anticipated PMA announcements is a Fuji S3 Pro digital SLR follow-up camera, perhaps to be named the FinePix S4 Pro. But will there be another FujiFilm-branded D-SLR announced in 2006? I sure hope so! Although it does not "look like" FujiFilm Professional will announce the S4 Pro at PMA 2006, there is still a tiny glimmer of hope for such an announcement. And if not at PMA, perhaps at Photokina in the fall we'll hear about a new S4 Pro model.
The year 2006 marks the end of full-frame D-SLR options for F-mount shooters.There are handful of Kodak SLR/n bodies left as new stock ,and so for all intents and purposes the full frame D-SLR market now is owned by Canon, with the EOS 1Ds Mark II at $7999,and the economically-priced EOS 5D at roughly $3200 street. So, if we're interested in a full-frame D-SLR camera the only game in town is "Canon". But it is not just the full frame capture of the new Canon FF models that is enticing serious shooters--it is also overall image quality, value,image crop-abilit,y and a decent,workable viewfinder image,and the advantage of having a full-frame camera body in a world that is full of full frame lens choices.And it's not just current Canon shooters who are thinking about a move to the Canon system in 2006, but a good number of Nikon shooters as well. And what about those Konica-Minolta users who are unsure of where their camera system is headed? And how about the Pentax users? And what about the film-shooting diehards who have resisted all the crop-frame D-SLRs from all manufacturers--but who have seen and heard what Canon is now able to offer them for $3,200?
I was shooting an important girls high school basketball game a few days back,and a photographer for the state's major daily newspaper was there (think Seattle Times, or Dallas Morning News, or Kansas City Star), as well as a staff photographer for a competing newspaper from the next town over, and me,representing two local-area newspapers, plus two youngsters from the home team's school newspaper. Every single one of us Nikon users was using electronic flash! The guy from the large metro daily was shooting with a D2Hs and an 80-200 AF-S an SB-800 right in the hotshoe; the staff photographer from the smaller regional paper was shooting with an 80-200 AF-S,a Nikon branded shoe-mount flash on a 13-foot lightstand up in the bleachers, and a Nikon SB-28DX mounted across the gym on a mini-mini tripod,all triggerered with Pocket Wizards, while I was using a single 285HV and a Quantum Battery 1 on a 13-foot light stand up in the bleachers and tripped by Pocket Wizard so I could shoot one end of the court with direct flash. The funny thing was, when talking to the big metro daily guy, his first comment was, "Why don't they bother to put brighter lights in these brand-new gyms?" Good question. The staff photog from the smaller newspaper and I got to talking after the game,and his main question was, "Have you seen what kind of pictures the 5D is able to make? I'm thinking about switching to Canon just for that awesome High-ISO." Wow....about 18 years + 15 years experience between two full-time, staff-level photographers, both of whom are dismayed about Nikon's inability to produce a camera that can shoot indoor sports in a new, multi-million-dollar gymnasium, unless ELECTRONIC FLASH is used. Nikon used to be _THE_ camera for photojournalism use. What the heck has happened? Frankly, I think all three of us,longtime Nikon shooters all, are a bit concerned that Canon seems to have the ability to produce D-SLR cameras that can deliver the BEST HIGH-ISO results in the entire industry. We all want our photos to be the best that they can be, and we want the technical advantages of the modern-age gear. After all, we payed $3500 to $5000 for our "pro" Nikon cameras, but we continually see Canon producing better images, right off the CF card, with less work, for fewer dollars. Since a D-SLR is both one's camera AND one's film, this is distressing.
I'd like to take a moment here to counter the arguments I've read on the web from some pretty experienced nature and outdoor photographers who want to suggest that Nikon is doing a great job with noise control and overall,total image quality in its current round of profesionally-oriented cameras. While I respect the opinions of these fellows with regard to shooting outdoor, nature scenes,and landscapes, the fact of the matter is that Nikon is clearly in second place behind Canon in terms of effective ISO speeds, and noise control,and overall total image quality under indoor lighting conditions at HIGH-ISO. And by HIGH-ISO I mean those settings ABOVE 800. Indoor, available-light shooting with a Nikon D2x is,for example, an exercise in noise avoidance and post-processing noise removal on each and every frame. A lot of P's and Q's must be minded with the D2x for example whenever the lighting becomes ever remotely sketchy; a working professional photographer I know wholeheartedly recommended me to buy and use the Fuji S3 Pro for "anything above ISO 640". I know what he means! I have a D2x, and for me, the images it produces are just too noisy when shot above ISO 640 to allow the image quality to go by without commenting on.At SIO 500, I feel that Nikon D2x files demand that in-camera noise reduction be set to OFF, and post-processing noise reduction applied to all NEF files for the best image quality, and frankly I think my $5,000 D2x yields about the same image quality as the EOS 20D does, when shot indoors under continuous artifical lighting,or outdoors in poorer light.The D2x at higher ISO levels and shot in RAW mode produces about the same FINAL result as the $1399 EOS 20D does when shot under the same conditions. 12.4 noisy effective MP versus 8.2 MP with fantastic in-camera noise reduction, the expensive Nikon and the affordable prosumer Canon 20D deliver about the SAME image quality under these conditions. That is irksome to me,and I feel like Nikon is giving us the shaft. Make no mistake about it,the D2x focuses fast and well, and really handles like a dream, but the images it makes when operating at the margins (you know, ISO 640 to 800, or in Hi-1 or apprx. ISO 1600 mode) of real-world conditions, with the lens wide-open and the shutter speeds down below 1/200 second....well, for those of use trying to shoot for 4-color newspaper publication or better, well, we're ALL USING FLASH to help our D2Hs or D2x bodies out. Not the best scenario. Nikon has a problem,and really is behind. I don't dispute the high praise the D2x garners from nature/landscape people who can shoot off a tripod, stopped down to f/10,at 2 second exposure times at ISO 160...that is the EASY stuff, and for such shooting the D2x is a superb camera at ISO 160.The D2x is almost a lifetime-good camera when shot under 800 to 2400 watt-seconds of studio flash--the D2x resolves a TON of detail when shot with high power flash units at low ISOs with a great lens.
The place where the Nikon cameras are second-place is wide-open, indoors, under artificial light, at real-world shutter speeds which can BARELY stop motion and which frequently show some motion blur.At lower Exposure Value levels indoors, I think Nikon has sucky "look" to its images under most of the conditions I have encountered. With a Nikon when things are even a bit sketchy, you've got no other choice--you've got to bring in supplementary flash since the indoor light is so dim and also so (typically) weak in Blue channel light that even with a great Custom WB, the image is just, well, noisy.
What kind of irritates me about this above-mentioned situation is that over the years we have seen Nikon camera models go from being THE preeminent D-SLR for PJ work (the Nikon D1) to a clear second-, or perhaps down to as low as third-place in terms of absolute image quality at the higher ISOs. I say 'perhaps as low as third-place' because there are two Canon models which can best anything Nikon has to offer in its two professional models.We've now got authoritative sources testing the EOS 5D and finding that its 1600 ISO setting is delivering image quality that rivals the ISO 400 performance of ALL the other D-SLR manufacturers, and to make matters more interesting, Canon is doing it with a FULL-FRAME camera that costs less than Nikon's D2Hs crop-frame,low-megapixel D2Hs camera. Nikon is currently selling the D2Hs for around $3,495 and it has 4.1 megapixels and a nice body with a slightly greater than 1.55x FOV factor, while Canon is selling a slightly lower-grade of body that has about 13 megapixels for $3295. In side-by-side image quality comparison tests, the EOS 5D yields image quality that's very,very close to Canon's flagship model, but which is clearly MUCH higher-resolution than Nikon's piddly little 4.1 megapixel D2Hs has and which gives Nikon's vaunted D2x a real run for the money in many ways. And,lower-noise. All in all, Canon has trumped Nikon's image quality for around a thousand dollars (or more!) less than the Nikon D2x. And so, the answer to the question, "Where are we headed NOW?" can and will be answered quite frequently in the year 2006 with the answer, "We're headed over to join the Canon camp!"
Here's a post that has the opinions of how the D2Hs stacks up to the little Nikon D50. It's shocking to think that a beginner's camera like the D50 offers _HIGHER IMAGE QUALITY_ than a professionally-targeted camera like the D2Hs.
As to the weather-sealing arguments of the D2 series versus the 5D and 20D models--I think the weather-sealing aerguments in favor of Nikons are a bunch of baloney. In 2004 I covered an outdoor track meet in a steady rain for a few the end of the event, the D1h was reduced to a nearly shorted out MESS of a camera. The 4-way controller and the LCD refview buttons when pressed yielded nothing but sequences of the AF point going around in circles, and already-shot images being cycled from start to finish. The camera was able to shoot, but if any control buttons on the back were touched,the camera went into spastic mode. So much for weather sealing,eh? Three hours outdoors in light May rain, and the camera was rendered useless. Some weather sealing.
We've now got very experienced, working photojournalists,some of the best in their entire region, bitching and moaning about their Nikon camera equipment's capabilities--not in terms of what the equipment can do for THEM, but in terms of how poorly Nikon's pro-body offerings stack up to those of the OTHER brand! And the odd thing is, this has all happened before! Nikon's once apparently insurmountable lead over Canon began to slip in the mid-1980's back when I was a college daily newspaper shooter, when Canon announced first the T90 and then shortly thereafter, the EOS line, as meanwhile Nikon tried to develop autofocus technology with the Nikon F3 AF (stillborn,had two AF lenses, and which sold maybe 3,000 units and which for all intents was really an engineering product and not a real,shipping,in-use product) and the incredibly crappy little toy-like Nikon SLR named the N20/20. Back in the 1980's, Canon ditched the FD lens mount, and introduced an entirely NEW lens mount called the EF mount, which they use to this day approximately 20 years later. Canon also introduced a series of progressively better and better new EOS bodies, for the different levels of camera performance demanded by the market. Nikon on the other hand, had the N20/20 and a lame telecoverter called the TC16-something which sort of converted the Ai and AiS manual focusing lenses to autofocus. Nikon stuck with the F-mount, which was both a good thing,and a bad thing.
So, while Nikon stood there with the 2-lens F3-AF body and the incredibly cheap and toy-like N20/20 which symbolized "normal vision", the Canon company was busy exercising better-than-normal or extraordinary vision with the EOS system's introduction. Within a few short years, Nikon's position as _the_ preeminent SLR system had been lost to the Canon EOS system. By the time Nikon got its very first truly workable autoficus SLR,the F4, onto the market, Canon had introduced ever better telephoto lenses with ultrasonic motor focusing. By the time Nikon got away from the screwdriver focusing system with the first lens-integral motors in a couple of big telephoto lenses, Canon had introduced superteles with built in lens integral USM motors AND image stabilization systems. The decline of Nikon's dominance is written in the history of Canon's EOS system and its EF lens line.
Canon make a big,big,big decision to ditch something very valuable in order to gain something even more valuable. Canon is now in many areas, the clear technological and performance leader, and the number one seller. Nikon is clearly lagging behind in many areas of technological and performance meterics and is the #2 D-SLR seller, with Olympus in third place in terms of D-SLR sales.
If Nikon had a clue, they would as quickly as possible consider using a FUJIFILM-designed sensor in one of their professionally-oriented D-SLR bodies. There is a need for a camera with good autofocus,good flash performance, wireless multi-flash capabilities,fast-handling,and a truly FIRST-RATE image capture sensor. I've payed good money for the D1, D1h,D70,and D2x Nikons. Of all those cameras, the D1h was perhaps the most-forgiving and most-capable camera in total, for its era. Perhaps some recall that Ron Reznick abandoned the Nikon D1x in favor of the lower-MP D1h camera, which he felt was overall a superior imager. I never bought the D1x, having instead settled on the Fuji S2 Pro, but I did own a D1h and was very,very happy with its performance and its price/performance ratio. I am not happy with the D2x and its price/performance ratio; while the D2x is a superb imager at low ISO and with a lot of electronic flash power or high ambient light levels, at lowe light levels indoors,or at elevated ISO's, the D2x's $4,995 price tag is a bitter pill to swallow. What is especially ironic is that,according to tests performed by Arizona's Steve Bingham, the Nikon D50 has lower noise than the Nikon D2x. Yeah, a cheap,entry-level, bottom-of-the-Nikon-ladder D50 has lower noise than the D2x. That's depressing. Of course, the D50 also has a very poor viewfinder. But then again, it's a $799 Digital Rebel competitor,and a single-wheel camera and uses the funky SDF media cards. But still....
So,again, where are we headed NOW? Well, things are uncertain. Canon users are headed for a 20D replacement very,very soon. I suspect that before the end of 2006, there will be EOS 5D's available for under $2700 and that will put full frame digital within reach of more enthusiasts than ever before. I expect NO full frame digital from Nikon in 2006. I expect that the name SONY will be splashed across the 7D and 5D SLR's formerly sold as Konica-Minolta models. I expect that the majority of old-line Minolta users will ditch their systems and switch to Canon,Nikon,and Olympus in that order. I expect that Pentax will actually get their 645 AF model digitally-outfitted in late 2006 and I expect that Pentax will continue offering its cameras under both its own name and the Samsung name in the consumer electronics stores like Fry's, Best Buy, and Circuit City, which is where I expect the SONY D-SLR models will also be sold. I expect the Mamiya ZD to die before the end of 2006 due to low sales numbers. I expect that prices will continue to fall,at least at the low- and mid-priced D-SLR points, but that the top-tier bodies from Canon and Nikon will continue to command stiff price premiums. I expect also in 2006 that the Nikon D200 will become one of THE all-time sales leaders for Nikon, outselling even the D70, which has been the #1 All-Time SLR seller for Nikon (film or digital!); if the D200 does not out-sell the D70 it will be because Nikon has saturated the market with D70 and D70s models! I believe that we are headed toward better software products from the camera makers Canon and Nikon. I beleive that Sigma will finally cease production of its D-SLR line,thus selling more Canon and Nikon and Oly D-SLRs in the future.
No matter what new products hit the market in 2006, it is certain that the D-SLR market will continue to attract the few remaining film-only shooters, who will buy either a low-level entry model,a mid-priced and very capable model, or what they feel is a top-tier D-SLR suitable for professional use. The final film-only professional shooters will make their entry into digital capture in the year 2006 I predict,lured by better cameras at better prices than ever before,and also by increasing competition from already seasoned digital shooters.
For the serious enthusiasts, I think 2006 will be the year that the camera makers really target value-for-dollar spent; the Nikon D200 can simply NOT go unchallenged by Canon,and I predict that Canon will release its 20D follow-up as a direct D200 competitor at the same,or a lower price than the D200's $1699. And I predict that Canon will widen the gulf between it and Nikon in terms of sales and also market share. I hate to seem like I am bitching and moaning about the capabilities of my camera equipment, becasue it is the BEST gear I have ever owned. But then again, Nikon is very far behind Canon in stabilized lenses and in ultrasonic motor prime lenses and in terms of cutting-edge imaging performance; when you pay five thiousand dollars for a camera, it has to be damned good. When a camera that costs roughly two thousand dollars less can make images as good,or better than your five thousand dollar camera, it does not take a genius to see the folly of continuing to saddle your wagon to a horse that just does not "quite understand" the nuances of the duration or the importance of the race he's involved in.
As we move into 2006, we'll start seeing the increased presence of digital-capable photofininishing equipment in the major drug and variety stores and superstores and even in grocery stores; my local safeway just last month installed on-site Kodak photofinishing equipment where customers can slip in their digital camera's memory card, or a CD-ROM disc of photos,and fulfill their own photofinishing orders. While larger drug and superstores like Rite Aid,Walgreens,and WalMart and Costco have all had digital-capable photofinishing equipment for two years or so, the movement of this type of equipment into grocery stores like my local Safeway shows the increased deployment of digital cameras at the consumer level. Prices are falling for prints, with what used to cost 29 cents per 4x6 print now being sold for around 19 or 20 cents per print.
I think that now, in 2006, we're headed toward the new digital revolution with the goal of better,less-expensive,and easier-to-use equipment making it ever-easier to get the kind of pictures,and print-outs, that we've wanted for so long. The new Epson 4800 printer for example, is incredibly more efficient and lower cost to operate than the 4000 model before it. I think HP will finally try and make more of a real play for the photography printing-out business which Epson has had such a grip on,at the enthusiast and professional levels, and we might see some lower priced,large format printers and supplies in 2006. While many people think that Epson is the "1970's Nikon" of printing,and thus untouchable in its position as leader, I think HP might try and "pull a Canon" in 2006 and knock the leader on its keister. We shall see.
The history of D-SLR cameras has had some notable failures, such as the EOS D60, the 10D's immediate predecessor, and the Contax full frame attempt, but on balance the other D-SLR models which have been offered by the major and minor players have ALL, each and every one of them, offered at least one thing that they did exceedingly well, and virtually ALL of the pre-2006 D-SLR models has been a workable,useful camera in one area or another. The problem none of the manufacturers has been able, or willing, to solve is how to make a single D-SLR model that has no significant weaknesses or drawbacks. Each pre-2006 D-SLR model has had at least ONE area that really dinged it; case in point the EOS D60--focusing system was not up to snuff, and the marketplace hated it and it did not last long at ALL,but was discontinued before the waiting lists orders were fulfilled and replaced with the 10D in what seemed like months. Oh,wait, it was mere months! The Kodak 14n....full frame,Nikon F-mount, $4995,and useable ISO topped out BELOW 160 on the ISO scale,or in other words the absolute WORST camera for even moderate ISO use,and basically unsable image quality at ISO 400. The 14n had to be replaced by the SLR/n in very short order to get rid of the Italian Flag Effect and to allow the introduction of the Lens Optimization system.The Pentax *IST was named such a ridiculous,utterly idiotic name that nobody wants to buy one; who wants to buy a camera that has as the first character of its name, an asterisk. Nobody knows how to pronounce * Ist, do they? And what about the *ist-D. Wow,give Pentax the blue ribbon for the most idiotic and destructive name since Cherolet tried to market the Nova in Spanish-speaking countries. Nova is basically the phrase "no va" or "No go". Credit the folks at Pentax with their ability to kill commerical success with idiotic names for sveral *Ist models! Konica-Minolta's Maxxum 7D was/is a wonderfully designed,engineered,and built camera and I wish I owned one; its problems lie in the proprietary Minolta flash foot(talk about corporate idiocy),the unpopularity of Minolta lenses,and being yet another 6.1 megapixel D-SLR.Fuji's S2 Pro made nice-looking images, but suffered from large file sizes,some artifacts, and the habit of conking out if all SIX batteries in two types, witrh its need for four-AA cells and its need for two CR-123A Lithiums, the S2 would stop shooting as soon as one set of batteries dropped below a certain level. Usually the lithium batteries would die as lithiums do, that is to say with about a 4-shot warning, and then they would need replacing and then that would allow another 1,000 or more frames to be shot off of the new lithiums. The four AA cells were good for as few as 400 to as many as 738 frames in my own experience, provided that there were lithiums in the camera; a set of four AA's could power the S2 for as few as 80 frames when there were NO lithium batteries in the camera. Dead lithiums still in the S2's battery compartment would render the S2 DEAD in the water,and so this entire battery issue was a major annoyance of the S2 Pro. I've never had so doggone many shutdowns of a camera due to juice problems than I had with the S2 Pro,and the lack of a SINGLE,removeable,powerful battery was a major S2 Pro weakness and annoyance. The Nikon D1 series had big batteries which needed a lot of maintaining and were in no way as reliable as the little Nikon D70's amazing battery, or the EOS 20D's excellent battery. Suffice it to say, there really has not been a D-SLR model introduced yet that has almost every base covered to the point that ONE MODEL can be considered a totally stand-alone camera. For prices in the $4995 range, the Kodaks and the Nikon D1x and D2x have had,I think,some serious gaps in performance capabilities, such as ISO 400 and up performance. Too damned much noise at moderate to elevated ISO settings on those cameras, especially considering the price,I think a lot of people expected "more" and "better" from their Kodak 14n or SLR/n or D1x or D2x.
I spent so much time detailing flaws and weaknesses in the above models simply to show that there's always "something" that can be improved, and not to fault otherwise wonderful, very capable machines. A lot of people accuse me of negativity, and well, I like to think of it as being coldly realistic and unflinching and as playing no favorites. I call it as I see it, and when I see areas that a particular camera has problems with, I highlight those areas. The thing is, the world wide web is full of One Brand Zealots who really,really,really want to defend their favorite things, and who want to get some sort of ego-glorifcation,some sort of pat-on-the-back justification,some validation for THEIR purchase decisions. You know, those little weenies who want to feel like their Canon or Nikon or Fuji or Kodak camera hasn't got a doggone thing wrong with it, that it has NO FLAWS, and NO WEAKNESSES, and that their camera is,well,flawless. Perfect. Beyond reproach. Beyond even observation, above any and all criticism, and basically, that their camera is such a good thing that anybody who owns the same model of camera is "in" and very smart, and that people who have soething other are in the "out group", and so on. What these One Brand Zealots seem to have is a sycophant-like devotion that borders on the ridiculous,or the pathetic; these are the same types of people who cannot understand a fair and a balanced reporting of opions or of tested results. For example, a lot of people cannot seem to wrap their brand zealotry-filled brains around even small,but significant criticsims of their pet camera model,and they scream like little babies when people bring up any and all weaknesses "their pet" actually has. Like the Fuji users who cannot seem to admit that the S2 and S3 have significant image artifacting problems. Or those who cannot seem to admit that the S3's smallest-of-all buffer capacity could present a real,significant deal-breaker problem. Or the Nikon-is-My-Religion guys who shoot their D2x's off tripods,frequently at moderate- to high-EV level lighting conditions and see it staggering quality at ISO 100-250, but who then cannot understand why the ISO 640 and up performance of the D2x is so,so disappointing.The answer is those N-i-MR guys have never shot the Fuji S2 or the EOS 20D at 400 or 800 ISO and had such nice pictures at lower-EV lighting levels.
The fact of the matter is, that ALL D-SLR models introduced in 2005 or earlier have at least ONE to maybe as many as FIVE areas of deficiency; my honest hope is that there will be a 2006 D-SLR model which will be the best-designed,best made,best-performing D-SLR yet introduced.With the degree of competition now exisiting, I really hope one of the manufacturers finally compes up with a design that is almost without flaw, and which will function exceedingly well as a One Camera Solution. I am sick and tired of needing more than one D-SLR body to do the few things that I actually need a D-SLR to do. Some of the flaws in the past, like the D1-series battery issues, or the Kodak 14n Italian Flag Effect problems,were just terrible,terrible problems which were simply inexcusably bad in a cameras which sold for right around five thousand dollars at introduction.So, to those who accuse me of negativity, I just wanna ask: why don't you loudmouths point me to the camera that is without fault,and which has absolutely NOTHING in the way of foibles or weaknesses or operational quirks that I need to worry about? Yeah, just tell me which camera has nothing worth talking about, which is so perfect as to be beyond criticism or evaluation or need for measurement, and then I'll buy myself two to use,and one as a spare to tide me over for the next 15 years. That's what I did with the Nikon models FM, FE-2 and F3-HP.
For those still reading along, I do not think that there has been ONE,single D-SLR model that has even come close to the perfection to be found the Nikon FE-2, which was my main squeeze for about 15 years,along with the F3-HP. Nikon has been making 35mm FILM cameras since about 1948. By my calculations, Nikon's first "real" D-SLR, the D1, was made about 51 years after its first 35mm film camera was made,and the D1 was premiered in late 1999,and so right now we stand at a realistic span of six years' worth of use and deployment of the various Nikon's DX-sensored D-SLR cameras It's still very early in the D-SLR game and truly mature D-SLR models are still around the corner. We're getting closer and closer to "good enough for good", but right now, there is still PLENTY to discuss and to criticise with the current D-SLR models. Unlike the Nikon F3 or F4 or F5, which are all "lifetime" cameras, the current crop of D-SLR models are throwaway models which,after a year or 18 months, are vastly,vastly improved upon by newer models. So, if you think there is "nothing to complain about" with the current D-SLR cameras from Fuji,or Canon,or Nikon, then I hope you're happy with what you have. But for me, my pictures appear in the newspaper in tens of thousands of homes and businesses in several small cities,with my name on them. I want my equipment to make me look good. I want my pictures to be as good as they can be. If you're happy with second-rate cameras and lenses, then good for you.
What Nikon is seriously,seriously,seriously lacking in is NOISE CONTROL AT ELEVATED ISO's. There is an argument that Nikon offers users a "choice" of applying Noise Reduction in-camera, or later,at the computer,and that Canon "forces" users into accepting images which have noise reduction applied in the camera. Apparently, it's a really nice thing to have the "choice" to use the built-in detail-killing noise reduction Nikon has in the D2x; that turns the 12.4 MP D2x into the equivalent of the EOS 20D. And apparently it's a good thing to have the "choice" to have to process a few hundred NEF files in Nikon Capture to get them to look about as good as EOS 20D files. The funny thing is, even when applying the best or High Quality noise reduction in Nikon Capture, the $5,000 D2x turns in files that look comparable, if as good, as EOS 20D files. Aparently it's a great thing to pay 5k for a camera that is about the equal of a $1400 mid-line Canon D-SLR when the chips are down. What this tells me is that Nikon has a noise problem,and Canon has found a way to reduce or to prevent noise, so that LOWER MP counts produce end-result files which Nikon charges you $5k to get, and which you need to laboriously batch process with the slow-speed Nikon Capture software. If you can keep your ISOspeeds low, like 100,125,160,200,250,or 320 or maybe 400, Nikon is the professional camera for you in the D2x. if you need higher ISO's, you need to drop $3,499 for the new,improved D2Hs camera (the one that has the dead meter syndrome fixed,and the lousy sensor adjusted so it's close to what a pro camera ought to be.) So, with the D2Hs, you get half the megapixels of the EOS 1D Mark II or EOS 1D Mark II-N, and a bit lower image quality than the Canon sports/action/PJ camera. Nikon is still in that late-1980's 20/20 versus EOS battle in the sports/action/PJ field. Nikon is still poking along with its traditional we-know-best attitude, while Canon is actually listening to the buyers and their wants and desires,and Canon appears to be responding extremely well to the marketplace and the demands of working photographers and serious enthusiasts. Canon is increasing image quality, boosting MP counts,and designing new cameras to fullfill a broad range of needs: 1.6x for consumers, 1.3x for working sports/action/PJ shooters, and two levels of Full-Frame cameras for the serious photographers and the BEST overall,total D-SLR camera with the EOS 1Ds Mark II.
The F-mount on the other hand has NO full-frame option.NONE. Apparently, nobody wants full frame in F-mount. The F-mount has its professional sports/action/PJ camera with half the MP count of the Canon model. The EOS 5D has set new standards for image quality at the $3k price point, as well as ushered in a new level of overall image quality that is decidedly more-affordable than the D2x. The Nikon D200 is a step in the right direction for Nikon, and is a much more Canon-like value proposition,and is the first sign I have seen that Nikon is REALLY,REALLY listening to its installed user base; Ai-AiS metering,a good control layout, a solid and sealed camera body, a pop-up flash, a PC socket on the camera,and 'somewhat better' image quality and a better in-camera JPEG engine than prior Nikons. The fact that the lowly D50 and the D200 have the best in-camera JPEG engines in the Nikon lineup is,well, embarassing to Nikon I am sure. The fact of the matter is that Kodak has already withdrawn from the F-mount D-SLR game, and it appears as if FujiFilm also might be withdrawing from the F-mount D-SLR game. Where we are headed in 2006 appears to be to a market where Canon is #1 with a bullet, Nikon is in second place, Olympus is in third place, and every other camera brand is in danger of losing out entirely. I think the marketplace will fairly quickly narrow down t o only the very-strongest competitors,and those who are responsive to their installed user base. When a company has a camera that has a lot of issues, like the EOS D60 had, or the Kodak 14n had, or like the Fuji S3 had, commercial success is elusive and while a small niche of people really loved the D60 and the 14n models,they were ultimately killed off because they could not satisfy the demands of the market. Kodak took the 14n and spun it into the SLR/n for Nikon users and that camera DIED. Kodak took a Sigma 35mm SLR and spun that into the SLR/c for a Canon full-frame offering priced in the general area where they thought it might compete against the EOS cameras, but that camera also DIED a very quick death.
The current climate is one of more-demanding customers, increasing technological capabilities at the highest levels of camera engineering, and ever-decreasing prices. Competing successfully in a market like the one we have now, in early 2006, means that the weakest camera offerings are doomed.And the weakest companies too. I hate reading the obituaries. I much prefer reading the birth announements. I hope every day that Nikon will smarten up,and realize that it has a potential ally in FujiFilm, and the sensor ideas that FujiFilm has developed. I hope that SONY assuming the D-SLR and the camera business of Konica-Minolta will change the sensor supplier relationship t hat Sony has had with Nikon,and that Nikon starts looking at FujiFilm's sensor design concepts as being what it will take to stop Canon's total domination of the D-SLR market. We are currently headed down a road where Nikon's had (at least)THREE out of FOUR new D-SLR releases marred by sub-par sensor performance. Just for giggles, I'll run through the D100 versus Fuji S2 sensor matchup. Loser? Nikon. Then the Nikon D70 versus EOS 20D sensor matchup. Loser? Nikon. The the Nikon D2h with its LBCAST Nikon-developed sensor against the 8.2 MP EOS 1D Mark II....uhhhhhh....loser?Everybody who bought the D2h or had their D2h meter die undexpectedly. The D2x's sensor is,well, truly fantastic at the lower ISO ranges. I mean that, the D2x sensor is truly FAN-TASTIC at the lowest ISO settings. The D2Hs,which was an effort to correct the problems of the D2h model is,I hate to say it, has been one of Nikon's least-successful cameras sales-wise; the dumping of the last of the D2h models at $1995 hurt the $3499 D2Hs model, and the EOS 1D Mark II and the newest EOS 1D Mark II-N,with the 2.5 inch LCD screen and double the megapixels of the Nikon have been really solid,solid "winners" for Canon. The Nikon D200 seems like a fantastic camera in most ways, and I'd like to own one I think, but the sensor problems of the D200, namely the infamous banding issue, have been huge sales killers for Nikon. First it was the D2h,which was supposed to have the LOWEST NOISE EVER from a Nikon--and that camera was an absolutely disastrous letdown in the marketplace. Then the D200 introductory debacle. It is difficult to convince today's consumers to vote with their dollars when a camera that costs $1700 or $2499 or $3,499 or $4995 performs only as a "niche product", or that it is a POOR all-around tool. And that is what we have had in the F-mount arena for the past several years.


Anonymous said...

holy crap, breathe

eraserheadbaby said...

That's funny.. I agree with most of your rant. I like using my off camera flashes for everything so I will be sticking a nikon to my face for quite some time.

Mr Peabody said...

Interesting comments. I use film and about to buy a digital body. Yes, I am tooing and froing, having Nikkor lenses makes me want to buy a Nikon. Buy I dont shoot sports, so its fuji for me. Heck, most new P&S cameras have more megapixels than a pro DLSR thats more than a year old now. Does that mean I am interested in that? No, I want a sensor that is going to give me a different look. So Im going to get the S3. Runway, Glamour - perfect. Yes, I know AF problems, slow write speed in RAW - so what - after using a Hasselblad its nothing and I do own a Nikon F80 - its ok. At least I wont get burnt highlights witb a Fuji. I dont want to wait for the S5.

All this talk about bodies? You can take a better picture of most things (except sports) with a NON AF, MEDIUM FORMAT KIEV, MAMIYA, BRONICA or HASSELBLAD. ITS FILM SIZE BABY! ITS GREAT ZEISS GLASS!

Bodies come and go. What about a rant about the marketing of lighting, now that would be interesting.