Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The State of D-SLR Photography as 2008 Begins

Welcome To My 2008 Digital Photography Blog! Yeah, it's January 2 of 2008 and Nikon D3 camera bodies are out of stock at Adorama, B&H,and just about every other large store. If you're in need of a D3, look to smaller stores,and secondary markets. As with several recent launches of 'hot' Nikon products like the 70-200 VR, 24-120VR,200-400VR,18-200VR,D200,and now the D300, Nikon's distribution channel is simply starved for product. Currently D300's are being scalped on e-Bay by those who have the items. Oh well...that's the way it's going to be I suppose.

PMA 2008 is when many serious enthusiasts look for Canon to announce the EOS 5D follow-up/iteration; currently, 5D body prices are reasonable at just a little over 2,100 US dollars most places,and with some rebates it's possible to get the price down even lower if you're willing to jump through some hoops. I honestly do not think we'll see $1,500 5D bodies on clearance; instead,I think the body stands on its own merits,and $1999 at retail will empty the channel of 5D's almost as soon as the 5D successor is announced.

Once Nikon D300 bodies flood the market, Nikon will have a great seller on its hands. Currently, the camera is going for $2,099 at two well-known and very large New York City retail/online/mailorder houses,which is a $200 price gouge over the MAP of $1899,but then the demand is SKY-high and D300 bodies are in short supply,so some retailers will take advantage. Right now it is a seller's market for the Nikon D300.

2008 seems like a year in which a number of enthusiasts and serious shooters will feel the need to move up to newer bodies than what they are currently shooting. And making it easier to do that will be the ever-more-favorable prices on d-slr bodies and body/lens kits. The entry level Nikon D40 and EOS Rebel XTi prices are very low compared with what we had 18 months ago at the entry level; prices since Christmas 2006 have not fallen all "that" much on D-40 kits, but still, it's now under $500 for a D40 kit with the 18-55 lens. Late in 2007, Nikon suddenly announced that they would be adding VR or Vibration Reduction to the 18-55 kit lens,which is a good thing considering the len's slow maximum aperture and target audience. Still, for serious shooters, VR is a very worthwhile feature which greatly improves most panning shots, particularly slow-speed ones like at 1/4 to 1/8 second which is where a lot of panning shots will look good. The cancelling out of up-and-down camera movement during panning shots is one of the easiest places to see the benefits of a stabilized lens.

From my vantage point, it looks like a good time to be a Nikon shooter. And a good time to be a Canon shooter. And, if one looks at the price/value proposition, Pentax is sitting very,very pretty, with a very good deal on the K10D with in-body stabilization,and the redoubtable Pentax K-mount lens advantages. I think Pentax is giving a lot of value to serious hobbyist shooters,and they have some very,very interesting and truly UNIQUE prime lens designs which other mfrs. do not offer. At pretty good prices too! If I were not tied to a system, I'd give the Pentax system serious consideration. Very serious consideration.

One interesting thing I've recently read about is a Nikon G-series to Canon EF-mount adapter ring that allows electronic control over the aperture of Nikkor G-series lenses when used on Canon EF mount bodies! That the adapter actually works has been proven.The final price and manufacturing status are uncertain. It ought to be a highly useful adapter to own.

Speaking of adapters--EOS digital bodies like the 20-30-40D and EOS 5D allow the use of pre-Ai Nikkor lenses,with no problems. And so does the Nikon D40! It can mount pre-Ai Nikkor lenses too! Useful feature if you'd like to spend just a couple hundred dollars browsing the big,on-line used departments at or at Lenses which are still pre-Ai usually have chrome and black,metal barrel designs, with the scalloped (wave-like,with deeply-cut,machined finger grooves to aid in gripping the focus and aperture rings) and they also have a narrow,metal ring that encircles the lens,near the lens mount portion,with a black dot as a lens alignment point. The front-most part of the barrel and the focusing ring area is usually a bright aluminum color,and back by the diaphragm ring, or at the back of the focusing ring, there is often also the same aluminum-colored metal on the barrel--lenses that look like that are quite often in their native state, which is now called pre-Ai. Anyhow--there are some fine lenses from that era like the 35mm f/2 O or OC, the 85mm 1.8, the 105/2.5,and 35/1.4 which are pretty good optics, with pretty good imaging characteristics. The 50mm f/2 lens of this era is also quite good. The 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor is a lens from this era that works pretty well on the EOS 20D and 5D. So,keep in mind, the D40 will mount anything in F-mount,except for a couple of very rare,esoteric ultrawide lens designs. I've almost talked myself into getting a D40.

Well, getting caught up on the camera's a changing time now in both Canon and Nikon-land. It looks to me that the EOS 40D is finally an upgrade worth getting if you've been shooting a 20D or 30D. Michael Reeichman's original review of the 40D noted that he found its performance quite comparable to that given by the full frame EOS 5D. A few of the measurebators gave him flak, but he,and some other careful testers have demonstrated that the 40D's smaller 1.6x CMOS imager delivers very rich,saturated,sharp,clear 10 MP captures,and that the tonality of the images is lush,and well, about as nice as what the EOS 5D delivers. Wow...that's good image quality from a crop-sensored camera. I looked at a 20D-40D-5D comparison test referred to by Recihman, done by veteran photographer Miles Heckler,and Heckler's sample files of a studio scene were pretty impressive. The 20D images look rather dull and washed out compared with the 40D and 5D,especially at the higher ISO settings. But most impressive is how CLOSELY the 40D mimics the 5D's color and tonality,at least on the test scene. Image sizes were kept the same,by moving the 5D back from the scene, so that scene-to-scene comparisons were with the same sized images. The 5D beats the 40D image-quality wise mostly at the highest ISO settings of 800 at 1600 ISO,and the 5D is the winner only by a smidge,which speaks exceedingly well to how much Canon has done with its 10MP imager and image processing engine and all the other associated stuff that goes into a d-slr,like microlenses,AA filter strength,fill rates,noise reduction or not and if so then,when,where; image capture and processing bit depth and when does it go to 8-bit,dynamic range expansion processing routines,etc,etc.

I think it's obvious: based on how awesome the 40D's 10MP images look at even high ISO's of 800 and 1600,expect that the 5D successor camera will have an imager that performs *significantly better* than the 5D does,especially at elevated ISO settings. The 5D's imager is amply good,and the body is amply good to continue selling well I think. I don't see a real need to eliminate the 5D from the lineup at this time, but I do think Canon has the technological prowess to have a 5D replacement camera ready to announce at PMA 2008,which will be held January 28 through February 1 if my memory serves me.

Nikon and Canon are now engaged in a period of very healthy,intense competition,and Nikon's probably going to win the Japan market in d-slr sales this year,according to an article on dPreview's news page. No surprise that, that Nikon will win sales over Canon,since the D40 kit is such a hit,and enjoys a price advantage over the Canon Rebel Xti model that my friend Steve recently bought. Nikon's lower price attracts more first-time buyers,and also the D40 boasts in-camera image editing and cropping and redeye reduction and filter effects,plus two-level d-lighting which is pretty good at salvaging accidentally underexposed JPEGs,and other types of oddly-lighted scenes where some digital fill-flash type image processing is needed to give the images more "snap". Plus the D40 has that clever "beginner mode" hand-holding interface,and it's a superior product for camera counter demonstration. THe D40 is kind of,shall we say,Apple Macintosh-like in its clever beginner mode,and I think it's superior image processing and gadgety,Japanese-fun-time-like design makes it a better demonstration camera, and thus a better seller over the Xti,or almost any other camera of the lower and mid-classes. The D40 has got a UI advantage,and its beginner modes are very,very confidence inspiring. I used to sell cameras. The D40 is a fantastic featured camera,with easy,high-impact demo features,like in-camera cropping, or redeye reduction, or BW image conversion,or d-lighting. For the computer-less kid or grandma, the D40's in-camera editing modes make it more desirable than the Xti,at least to Japanese camera buyers.

Nikon's D3 is taking the High-ISO bastion by storm. The concert shooters are absolutely grooving on the 6400,and 12,800 ISO settings. The camera is at least three stops better than the D2x at the elevated ISOs,according to concert shooter Todd Owyoung's blog,located at

The only direct,lens-to-lens comparison of the 5D and D3 that I have seen was done by Ken Rockwell at

Rockwell did his head-to-head D3 and 5D comparisons using the SAME 180mm f/2.8 ED AiS Nikkor on both the Nikon and the Canon bodies. This 180mm lens has ED glass,and is a large,well-built, apprx. $650 lens from twenty years ago. I own one,and have since 1986,and it is a fine lens. Rockwell's comparisons show me that the 5D and D3 are about equal at up to and including ISO 800,and that at each progressively higher ISO beyond 800, the D3 shows an advantage. And at the ridiculous ends, the 5D tops out and post-process pushing is the only way to get to the very-highest settings of 6400-12800-25600. For those who must shoot at the very-highest ISO settings currently possible,the D3 looks to be an excellent machine. Resolution-wise, I think other cameras actually better the D3,so if ultimate resolution is a concern, the D3 is currently not the best answer. As a sports/PJ/low-light machine, the D3 looks to me to be a dream camera based on specifications and the feature set and the sensor size; the High-ISO performance of the D3 is simply amazing. Amazing.

Nikon's D300 is a highly sought-after camera. My impression is that most users will like it quite a bit. I think the pictures I have seen out of the D300 prove that it is a vastly better High-ISO camera than the D2x or D2xs,and so,it will be adopted by many D2x users as an accompanying camera that's significantly better at elevated ISO shooting than the bigger,heavier D2x body,and that it'll work quite well for newspaper/wedding/portraiture work of most types,at a fair price for a nice camera body that's got a lot of pro-grade features but in a lighter,more-configurable half-height body,like Canon has been offering for some time. I think many people appreciate a half-height body to which a motor/dual battery/booster kind of effect is added AS NEEDED or IF needed, rather than being forced to always carry the "brick" body of an EOS 1 or D-single digit body.

I think 2008 is going to be a year in which a LOT of shooters get new equipment. 2008 is poised to be a transitional year,with great new models becoming available over the year,and with prices that are favorable,I think the amateur-serious enthusiast and pro segments of photography are going to see lots of people buy new bodies,and new lenses. Nikon has made two very nice new pro lenses for full-frame, their 14-24mm and their 24-70mm f/2.8 models,and has now added VR available in 200,300,400,500,and 600mm pro supertele lenses,at supertele prices. Bu also a 16-85mm VR lens,and an 18-55 kit lens with VR,and a 70-300 with VR and a 55-200 with VR, and then of course add to this the highly desirable and much sought-after 18-200 VR,and Nikon has made some very,very shrewd lens moves in the low- and mid-market,AND some spectacular moves in the pro-glass market. All within the last couple of years.

Consumer's like,and want stabilized lenses. Nikon now has a good lineup of VR lenses,and they range in price from dirt-cheap,to moderate,to upscale, to supertele. Including one hybrid field tele/macro, the 105 VR-G,which is an f/2.8 that functions well as a field lens,and does acceptably well as a macro lens. And including the 200 f/2 VR,which is one of the most-spectacular lenses ever created. Nikon's consumer/prosumer/enthusiast lineup loooks great these days.

Nikon's recent sales successes are related in some measure to its development of a full range of soccer-mom lenses,but also to their development of a group of lenses designed for burgeoning digital photography enthusiasts,many of who will pay around eight bills for an 11x zoom well as some other highly-capable lenses in the $800-$1699 price range. Stuff like the 17-35,70-200VR,17-55 DX,12-24 DX,and the new 14-24mm and 24-70mm f/2.8 nano-coating FX pro zoom models. Nikon's lenses have just gotten better and better,and Nikon seems to love selling lenses that cost $1100 to $1699,or more. The expansion of the serious enthusiast market means that expensive lenses like the 200-400 f/4 VR-G and 200mm f/2 VR-G lenses at roughly five thousand and four thousand dollars, are selling in numbers that would have been unheard of a decade ago. I think that 2008 will be a year in which MANY Nikon enthusiasts will increase their investment in the system.

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