Sunday, March 19, 2006

Switching Systems: Starting Over:Your First D-SLR

Switching Systems: Starting Over:Your First D-SLR You know there's always a person who says, "Switching systems is expensive-don't risk it." As well as the person who says, "I was involved in photography from xxxx to xxxx,then got out of it,and when I came back, I decided to start with another system," and of course there are also people who are currently saying, "I am buying my first d-slr-which one should I buy?" The point of this is to consider switching systems,starting over, or buying your first d-SLR.NOTHING VENTURED,NOTHING GAINED. Sound familiar?
I include "buying your first d-slr," as a point of mental reference. For those of you on your third or fourth or even fifth d-slr,ask yourself the question: "Where would I be at right now if I had started with a _________ as my first d-slr?" I ran into a young man today,quite unexpectedly. He told me he had gotten his first nice camera. I asked what it was. "A Nikon D-50 he told me," and proceeded to produce it and show me a few shots on the rear LCD. I examined his lens, a 28-90 Quantaray AF zoom lens with matching brand UV filter. He was pretty pumped about the outfit,its image quality, and the 512 MB storage card he bought. I could see his enthusiasm matched the kind and quality of pictures he was getting with the camera....it was shooting pretty damned good, I thought. Nikon D50. Peter Bendheim, a well-known South African photographer has used the D50 in social photography and personal walkabout uses,and has made some very,very favorable comments about its image quality on various on-line forums. My personal feeling is that the SB800 flash unit is a very critical advantage Nikon has with its D50,D70,D70s,D200,D2x camera bodies. The SB800's flash control system is a nice digitally-accurate,analog-ethos type of flash unit. The SB800 is very easy to control,and reliable in use. As a first D-SLR, the Nikon D50 was getting very good pictures for a young fellow without much photography background. Price is right, noise is kept fairly low,it tests out well. Why not. If you like the looks of the EOS Digital Rebel or Rebel XT, buy one of those. Same with the various pentax and Olympus d-slr models. A first d-slr is not a lifetime camera for most people,and any d-slr is far better than no d-slr.
Switching systems. Yes, the dreaded switching systems. System switchers are viewed with a lot of contempt and disdain by a number of people. People who switch systems are often viewed as traitors and turncoats by the new breed of tribal loyalists who have come to dominate amateur photography over the last few years. The Nikon versus Canon threads,and the Nikon boosters and the Canon boosters are both typically ignorant of what the opposing camp REALLY offers. Nikonophiles love to talk about Canon's low-noise, CMOS-sensored cameras, why Canon Boosters love to point out how Canon has many Image Stabilized lenses, as well as scores of lenses which offer full-time manual focus override, and also how Canon has prime lenses with ultrasonic motor focusing, while Nikon has virtually no under-$4,000 primes that offer full-time manual focus override. The thing is, each of the major brands offers "something" of value,and each of the major brands has an adequate system of lenses, flashes,and accessories to satisfy probably 80 percent of photograhers. And yet, the web is full of horror stories about how bad "the other systems are."
2006 seems to me to be a good year for switching systems. Sony will assume the marketing of the Konica-Minolta D-SLR line,with the 5D and the 7D probably soon to appear labellaed as "Sony" models. Samsung has an agreement with Pentax,and is marketing Pentax-made cameras under the Samsung brand. Canon has just unleashed the 5D full-frame d-slr as well as the EOS 30D, a refinement of the stellar 20D. Nikon's D200 offers an amazing combination of features,design touches,performance,and fair pricing. It's quite possible that a switch from what you have now, to a DIFFERENT brand of d-slr, would make sense in 2006.
To people who are NOT "married to" a system of lenses and accessories, 2006 is going to be the year when prices are attractive,and when competition between brands heats up. I have seen a good number of Fuji S2 users who are now eyeing the EOS 5D as their next camera. Frankly, as good as the S2 is and was, I think the EOS 5D is AS GOOD, and will continue to be a very,very good imager for several years,no matter what the competition comes out with. There's been a number of people who just do not seem to "get" what the EOS 5D is all about. It's about full-frame shooting, the way 35mm lenses and bodies have been designed to shoot since the 1920's. The full frame concept is about shallow depth of field potential,and about using lenses as they were designed to be used. Full frame brings back the value of a 50mm, and 85mm, a 100mm and a 135mm, as well as a 200 and 300mm. Full frame makes the 24-70 a wide angle to short telephoto. Full frame makes your 300mm lens useful once again. Full frame allows you to blow-out (that is to say, to de-focus) backgrounds very nicely with the lenses you have and want to use. Full frame at today's MP counts (in this case, over 13 megapixels) means large,low-noise pixels, and only modderate stress on lens Line Pairs Per Millimeter (Lp/mm) performance. Full frame at 13 MP means HIGH-QUALITY images without a lot of downsides. In my opinion, as a long-time Nikon shooter, the EOS 5D is the first body Canon has released that has TRUE, broad-based appeal, and which has already lured MANY F-mount shooters over into the Canon camp.
For those who have been using the lower-end cameras, like the EOS Rebel or Rebel XT,or the Olympus E-series or the Pentax *IST series bodies, or any of the other "entry-level" cameras, perhaps 2006 would be a good year to consider the Nikon D200 as a camera that offers a LOT, for not a lot of money. I've not owned a D200, bbut do know several good shooters who do use the camera, andd they ae all quie happy with the D200. From my point of view, the D200 is the single best-value F-mount digital Nikon has yet ofered for sale. Think "D2x Lite". Think of a complete flash system that bypasses anything Canon offers, the option for a small half-height camera,or one with an accessory grip added,and a fair price with loads of custom features and a really nicely designed camera. For those who want to stay within their current brand or lens mount, I would say consider moving UP a class of camera. If you have a Rebel, think about a 20D or a 30D; if you have a 10D or 20D,consider an EOS 5D; if you have a Fuji S2 or S3,why not consider adding a Nikon D200 or a Nikon D2x.
Ask yourself, "How much gear do I really,truly want to invest in?" I recall suggesting to Steve Bingham that he consider the Konica-Minolta Maxxum 7D, some 13 or 14 months ago when he was looking to replace the Fuji S2 pro with a new d-slr mdoel, and his reply was basically, "Not enough lenses for what I want to do." Fair enough, I guess. But then, it's been roughly 14 months, and in thyat time Steve bought the Nikon D2x, but then after 12-13 months he decided to get rid of the D2x and to go with the Nikon D200 for its fine image quality and its small size and light WEIGHT and compact design. I still think that Steve was wrong when he said that there were inadequate lenses available in the Konica-Minolta lineup. I think if one needs only a wide zoom, a medium zoom, and a tele zoom, and a macro prime lens, and a good electronic flash unit and maybe a normal prrime lens or a lightweight walkabout zoom or prime, that ANY, and I mean ANY of the major D-SLR makers have some great equipment. The problem arises when one wants superteles or specialty macro tools,or when one imposes artificially stringent "one piece of gear" restrictions; in the case of superteles, only Canon and Nikon have really superlative lenses available, and only the big two have the full spectrum of macro lenses and tools available for their systems. And, if one says, "I MUST HAVE a system that offers the 105mm Defocus Nikkor" or something, then one is locked into one brand choice.
I'm gonna say this very simply: I think the Konica-Minolta Maxxum 7D was the best-designed camera body of the last two years. I hope the Sony transition sees this camera continued, and I pray that the Maxxum 9 is made into a digital variant. While I like Nikon cameras a lot, and feel that their ergonomics and control systems are very good, I think the Maxxum 7D is the BEST-DESIGNED camera I have seen in many years. If you're honest and open-minded about it, I think you owe it to yourself to see what exists outside of your current brand. And, despite the uncertainty brought about by the new K-M to Sony transfer, I think that the 7D and the Maxxum line's many engineering features (like the Maxxum's manual/AF focus clutch system for example,why it makes Nikon's manual/AF clutch system look like what it is, a 1980's era "nice try",but a dismal failure in actual real-world use). I think that the built-in, body-integral anti shake system Konica-Minolta developed and put into its 5D and its 7D cameras is a very valuable feature, but there are a list of other valuable features which the Maxxum line of cameras has more so than other D-SLRs. I'm not saying that the K-M 7D is the best "imager" of the last two years, but I am saying that in term sof body design, control layout, features, and design ethos, even Nikon and even Canon pretty much suck when compared with the Maxxum line. If the K-M 7D were a Canon or a Nikon-branded body, it would be a HUGE,HUGE,HUGE sales success. But basically, not many people are open-minded enough, or free enough, to consider switching to the Maxxum system. However, with Sony on the pentaprism, the brand warrior aspect of d-slr photogrpay might kick in later this year, and there might be many people who switch to this very deserving camera system.
When you get the chance, go and demo the Sony/Maxxum d-slr line's top offering. And mark my words, if Sony introduces a digital Maxxum 9-series model, there will be some system swirtching going on,world-wide.

1 comment:

peter bendheim said...

Nice and useful post, Derrel. I think all the manufactures make pretty good gear now that the digital era is beginning to mature a little.Quite frankly I couldn't tell the difference between an image say, made with a D200 and a 30D if you put two prints down in front of me. It all boils down to what feels good in your hands (because if you do it for a living, its gonna be in them lots) and how wedded one is to lenses in terms of investment. But for the first time DSLR user, there are a lot of good choices out there at a price that was unheard of 5 years ago.