Sunday, June 29, 2008

My 100th Blog Post: Where To Go From Here: Ruminations and Musings

June 29,2008-One rumor has it that on July 1,2008 a new d-slr from Nikon will be announced. Purportedly to be named the D700, it will be an FX or Full Frame sensor camera,priced at $2,995 in the USA ,with a half-height body with an optional control/battery grip,and the usual Nikon niceties--like Nikon's CLS flash control system,Nikon's matrix metering,Nikon's legendary ergonomics,and so on.It all sounds wonderful to me,really.

How one assigns value to a d-slr has changed over the years. When I payed $3,000 for my used D1 in early February of 2001, it was the first used D1 available in my area,and it was then "a good deal". I recall just a few months later when Canon's EOS D30 sold for $3,000; you might remember the 3 megapixel EOS D30 as the first successful,popular Canon d-slr,made before the short-lived Canon D60, which came right before the 10D,20D,30D,40D series. At one point, my Fuji S2 Pro's $2,495 initial price tag offered real value as a Nikon F system body,and was worth every penny of its initial cost at introduction. Such were the times back in 2001, 2002,and 2003. It is now mid-2008 and the d-slr landscape has changed,and cameras and their value propositions are in a state of flux in 2008. One article I read pointed out that now, consumers are MUCH more selective about their d-slr purchases than they used to be. It has become more difficult to "wow" or to impress customers. I think what 'selective' translates to is that customers who are already invested in a lens systems are LESS inclined than ever before to simply buy the latest body as an automatic no-brainer action. I think at this stage of d-slr development and pricing,skipping a generation or even two might make sense, whereas a scant few years back ago,one could hardly afford to sit still and not upgrade bodies as soon as a new model came out--and offered really significant improvements over the body that came before it. The year 2008 promises to be a big year for upgrading cameras.

Nikon's flagship models in the D2 and D3 series have been priced at $3499 to $4999 over the past few years. Canon's professional 1.3x camera of the day has been priced around the $4k mark for a few years now if I am not mistaken,while Canon's highest-MP count d-slr model has always carried an 's' in its name,and has been priced at $7,999 since 2002,when Canon established the first truly successful and 'popular' full frame d-slr mode, the 11 MP 1Ds. Gosh,it's getting to the point where high end consumer d-slr's from Pentax have a pixel count of 14.6 MP. Prices and what a camera is "worth" might rapidly change this year; Nikon,Canon,and Sony might have some real competition for one another during 2008.

According to the article above, Photokina 2008 could see the Nikon D700, the Sony Alpha 900,and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II models all vying for attention. The Sony Alpha 900 people are widely anticipating is expected to be a rugged,solid body with an excellent viewfinder, a 24.6 megapixel full-frame imager,capable of capturing images at 6.3 frames per second. Not too shabby,eh? B&H just dropped the 1Ds Mark III to $7,849 right now,having just come down from $7999. Canon's other FF camera ,the 5D, is now three years old and has dropped to roughly $2,000 or even under,retail,while Nikon is reportedly looking at a $2995 introductory price for its mid-level FF camera. Where,price-wise, will Sony try to slot into this marketplace for full-frame d-slr bodies? Just how professionally built might a Sony Alpha 900 FF d-slr be?

I fully expect that Nikon's D700,as seen in the brochure above, will be the next mid-range Nikon FX format d-slr. I'm disappointed at the price tag of $2,995 they put forth,and hope it will cost less. I await the day when a full frame,mid-level Nikon sells for $1599,but that time is quite a few years in the future I'm afraid. What I think is interesting is how Canon's 5D will fare once there's another mid-level,half-height full frame d-slr option. Considering that the above web article says the D700 will offer the 25,600 ISO of the D3, it makes me think that the imager might be the same or very similar to that of the D3 body. I anticipate that the quality camera design of the Nikon D200 and then D300 models will be ported over to the D700,and that it will have a wonderful feature set that today's now almost 3-year-old EOS 5D does NOT possess. It is today June 29,2008 and I have heard a rumor that on July 1,2008 Nikon will announce the D700.

The EOS 5D is a fine imager in a mid-range body. It has a weak AF system,with a very high degree of center-weighted focusing. It produces VERY high quality files,even at elevated ISO levels and under low lighting conditions. It's got a great balance between sensor size--full frame 35mm size sensor--and MP count, at 12.8 MP. Very similar to the Nikon D3's size and MP counts and pixel density and pixel other words, the 5D's balance between sensor size and MP count is a sweet spot that Nikon's D3 is also very close to. It seems to me that Canon's iteration of the 5D ought to be not an iteration,but a wholesale UPGRADE to a more feature-rich,faster body,with a broader AF area,and overall a much,much better-specified camera body than one would find in a mere iteration called 5D Mark II.

From looking at image quality comparisons of the 5D and the D3, the 5D does very well against the D3--until the ISO's get high. At the higher ISO settings, the Nikon D3 simply is unmatched. However, given how good the EOS 5D's sensor is and how good it has been for going on three years, my feeling is that Canon's follow-up camera will have significantly good enough High ISO performance that it will easily be able to equal the Nikon D3 in such metrics as resolution,noise,and color saturation and color accuracy at such ISOs as 6,400, ISO 12,800 and maybe even ISO 25,600. I really think Canon is behind Nikon in terms of focusing systems, multiple remote flash sophistication,and those types of things, but my feeling is that Canon's 5D follow-up is going to be one hell of a good camera.

What about Sony's anticipated full frame model, the 24.6 megapixel monster that many expect to be premiered in September at Photokina? What type of price point will Sony be aiming at with that type of MP count? Does Sony expect to price their flagship in the $4,000 price range to compete against Canon's 1.3x model? Surely Sony does not think its flagship can command the $4995 price of a Nikon D3, nor the $7999 price of the highest megapixel EOS model. How good will the image quality of an Alpha 900 be? Will Sony try to extract a high price for their camera,or will they strive to balance unit price with sales volume? What does Sony have to do to make their flagship a desirable model and a good sales performer for the new Sony d-slr division? Is Sony capable of delivering a totally integrated,fully-professional 24.6 MP d-slr worthy of a look by serious photographers? Or will it be a niche camera with a very high price which allows Sony to sell a lot of expensive Zeiss-branded lenses to a fairly elite set of users? So many unanswered questions ought to become clear by late September of 2008.

Part II-Well,today was July 1, and Nikon's D700 was announced to the world. As predicted,it was 12.1 MP, $2995, uses the same D3 focusing pattern/system,and uses the same motor drive/battery grip as the D300. The D700 will meter with Ai and AiS lenses,and has non-CPU lens inputs so you can get EXIF info with pre-AF lenses. Frame rate is a respectable 5 fps without grip,and 8 fps with grip added. Looks like a nice camera,but real,validated, ISO-standard-compliant ISO settings of the D700 will top out at 6,400 and all ISO values above are "expanded" which means slightly sub-par in my book, so it's not designed to compete on even footing with the D3 in the uber-lowlight,ultra-high ISO scenarios that the D3 currently rules for sports/action/PJ shooters and anybody else who likes or needs to use high ISO settings. And,since Nikon offers NO fast lenses in the wide angle range,you're gonna need those higher ISO settings in poor light or when high shutter speeds are needed. If Nikon had a 24mm f/1.4,like Canon does, can you imagine the low-light PJ potential of such a lens with the D3? Canon also offers a 50mm f/1.2 L and an 85mm f/ 1.2 L series lens. Nikon's behind on lens speed in the wideangle and normal and short tele prime areas, but I expect Nikon will soon be able to address the needs of future users as soon as their resources are a little bit less focused on cranking out as many bodies as possible.

Nikon's been busy designing lenses for the DX format for some time now,and it seems as if their latest FX format offerings the 14-24 and 24-70 and 200-400 and 200 f/2 VR and 300 f/2.8 VR are all extremely high quality optical designs,with steep price tags and unmatched performance. Concurrently, Nikon has shored up the consumer zoom category by offering a lot of small,affordable designs, as well as adding VR and better optical performance to its ED-glass 70-300,and also managing to make several kit lenses with surprisingly good performance on DX bodies. Nikon is weak in what some call the mid-range zoom,at both the consumer and enthusiast price points. Nikon _DESPERATELY_ needs a modern,quality 28-85mm or 28-105mm or 24-105mm zoom that covers the mid-range focal lengths. Nikon has abandoned this segment,and I think BADLY needs to come up with a good,modern, AF-S lens that spans 24 to 105 or 28-105. Canon's 24-105mm f/4 L series lens is one I own,and it's a pretty good lens--significantly better than my 24-85 AF-S,which is if you ask me, a disappointing lens to have to rely upon.

Canon has been working pretty hard on its professional sports/PJ cameras,overcoming the autofocus problems of the 1D Mark III in only a few months, but seriously lagging behind Nikon on feature set on its mid-level bodies 30D and 40D,yet offering similar imager performance at substantially lower prices--for admittedly less-sophisticated bodies, but bodies which nevertheless deliver comparable images to enthusiast Nikon bodies. Canon owns the highest-MP count crown with the latest 1Ds III iteration now at over 22 MP,with the 1Ds II formerly the king at 16.7 MP.

Canon seems to have stopped developing its autofocusing systems and body features like ultra-high quality LCD display units and feature-rich bodies,and things like AUTO ISO. WTF is that "PRINT" button doing on so many Canon cameras? Still,the price of the 40D makes for a lot of camera for the money,and the Rebel line is doing well. And after almost three years unchallenged on the marked, Canon's "economy" EOS 5D 12.8 MP Full Frame camera is still churning out good quality files in the hands of conscientious shooters. Great files can be made with the EOS 5D--I know, I've shot some that I like very,very much,and when shot right the camera delivers fine images. But it is still a rather pedestrian camera BODY,with a merely midllin' autofocus system, wrapped around an excellent imager. Prices for the 5D have fallen to around $2,000 or less,which represents a very good value in my opinion.

Pretty much everybody I know says Canon needs to introduce an updated 5D in 2008. But I think Canon ought to do more than merely update the 5D with say a better AF system,and maybe a better microlens array and a little bit better-optimized imager and image processing software; I think that Canon ought to take a page from Nikon's D200-D300-D700 book, and put pro-class autofocus and pro-type features in their mid-priced bodies. I really think that Canon needs to do some more body-building efforts in its line of serious enthusiast/semi-professional bodies. Comparing the sophistication of the D200 to the 30D and 40D, or the D300 to the 40D shows that Nikon charges more money for a body that offers significantly more features than what Canon is offering and selling. I think that the enthusiast/pro-sumer/hobby markets have a lot of feature-driven buying,and that many people these days are willing to pay those extra five hundred dollars for a camera that offers a number of easily-compared positive marks over the other guy's offerings. Beating the competition on specifications is important: Nikon's idea of sharing focusing modules between top- and mid-level bodies is a stroke of genius and is a very positive selling point. Pick up an EOS 5D or 30D or 40D and compare it with a Nikon D200 or D300--there's simply no comparison as to which camera brand has the better feel and the bigger,more-encompassing feature set.

I've blogged before on what the EOS 5D is like; it could use some serious updating,mostly on the autofocusing system,and also the metering system could be improved, but mostly,the body needs some more controls over autofousing,and could use a dedicated function button for better adaptability to changing situations,and the LCD is badly,badly behind the standard Nikon has established. New Nikons have INCREDIBLE LCD screens,while those on Canon's look poor by comparison,and the Nikon LCD Screens are actually better and easier to evaluate focus with.

Well, 2008 looks like a great year to be involved in d-slr photography. One advantage Canon EF mount camera bodies have
( but that not many people will care about) is their adaptability to use with lenses in other mounts,via adapter. Some of you might have seen some of my web samples of both Nikon and Pentax lenses used on EOS 20D and EOS 5D cameras. Nikon and Pentax screw thread lenses work pretty well on EOS bodies, albeit only in stopped-down mode. There is now a totally NEW and RADICAL lens adapter which allows the electronically-controlled diaphragms on Nikon's newest G-series lenses to be controlled on Canon EOS bodies. The adapter is available through for about $190 US dollars. There are a number of very exquisite Nikkor lenses in the G-style mount like the 200/2 VR and 70-200VR and 14-24 and 105 Macro as well as the 200-400 VR,and the new big teles in the G mount. Macro,wide-angle,and supertele manual focus and AF-D lenses made by Nikon can be easily adapted to Canon bodies using $17 adapters,but the G-series adapter is $190,but a 200/2 VR is a $4,000 lens,so a $190 adapter allowing it to be used on a Canon d-slr is a good deal in my book. Canon curently offers FF, 1.3x,and 1.6x sensor bodies,across a wide spectrum of prices. Canon has a good lens lineup,but still the BEST ultra-wide lenses in the 14-15-18mm focal length ranges carry the Zeiss brand, or are found all in one lens in the new Nikkor 14-24mm AF-S G with Canon struggling to build anything truly STELLAR for the folks who shoot down in those short FL ranges. Head to head testing results done by the folks at 16.9 shows the new Nikkor 14-24mm zoom lens is as good as or better than Canon's 24mm f/1.4L by most landscape-shooter metrics,and BETTER than the Canon prime in terms of corner resolution! PLUS, the 14-24mm Nikkor has also got the wide-wide thing covered too!

One advantage Nikon has,in my opinion, is prettier bokeh in a number of lenses. Like,take for example Canon's 100mm f/2.8 EF Macro,which I have owned since I got my 20D. What a horrible macro lens in terms of bokeh and out of focus highlight shape--it's cruddy. Contrast that with Nikon's 105 AF-S VR-G Micro-Nikkor,which has quite good bokeh. Canon has no 105 AF-D Defocus Control lens,a real bokeh champ,and a beautiful imager. Nikon's 85mm 1.4 AF-D is a bokeh champion. On crop-sensor,when you have a lot of OOF highights in the background the 70-200 Nikkor,which is a G-series lens, blows the pants off of the Canon 70-200 2.8 IS,with the Canon producing football-like OOF highlights, the Nikkor true round shapes and beautiful defocus. And, probably the prettiest imager ever built is the Nikkor 200 f/2 AF-S VR-G prime,which I bought early in its production and have been just amazed by its bokeh,sharpness,contrast,and autofocusing speed and surety. For sports use, the 200 f/2 VR and D2x is the best AF combo I have ever used; in lower light levels, the f/2 of the 200mm seems to give the camera a little bit better than the D2x and 300 f/2.8 AFS-Mark II lens,which is in itself an amazing autofocusing lens. The 200/2 has Nano Crystal coatings and is very flare and ghost-resistant,which is a big,big problem on much long,fast glass.

Canon's lens offerings are respectably good, but while Canon has been developing better sensors, Nikon has been producing new lens designs that are really quite amazing,and as these things go,affordable. Not cheap, but not Leica-expensive either. Nikon's 14-24mm has caught Canon flat-footed I think. Nikon's 24-70mm f/2.8 was past due,but now it has been created and thus it is is newer and better than Canon's 24-70mm pro lens. Nikon's 300/2.8 VR is newer and better than Canon's,and on crop-sensored bodies, Nikon's 70-200VR is better than Canon's similar pro lens and all the independent mfr. lenses too,and the Nikkor lens has better bokeh as well. I do not think Canon has introduced a "new" conventional macro lens in over a decade now,while Nikon has redone its 60mm and 105mm macros just recently. Nikon is now trying to equal Canon with 24mm,45mm,and 85mm tilt/shift lenses which I predict will all be the equal of or better than any and all Canon's now aging 24mm,45mm,and 90mm TS-E designs that have been on the market for what is it now? 10 years?

In terms of bokeh,and also exotic new designs with VR, Nikon's been doing amazing work with each new "top-quality" lens it has produced for the last four years. Nikon's been going about a lens first-bodies second kind of approach over the recent past,probably because Nikon is a much smaller company than Canon,and Nikon made a decision to design numerous lenses that can be relied upon for a good,long time. I think Nikon has finally caught up to Canon with the D3 camera and sensor combo. And in the mid-market bodies, c'mon....the EOS 5D and EOS 40D bodies are very plain Jane compared with the Nikon D200-D300-D700 lineup. Nikon's been putting the PROFESSIONAL features into the high-end amateur bodies like D200-D300-D700,while Canon has been basically micro-refining the EOS 10D to perfection with the 10D-20D-30D-40D,yet making almost no real "progress". No offense to those of you shooting the EOS 40D,but compared to the Nikon D300, it's like a 1967 Mustang compared to a 2008 Mustang...the 40D is still showing a tremendous amount of the 10D's core,and it has shown the Nikon focusing button control rip-off for the first time,as Canon tries desperately to improve the 1D and the semi-pro D-line model with slightly better control over autofocus operation by incorporating a single AF ON button, like the AF ON Nikon has had for years and years. Lens-wise,on affordable stuff I think Canon wins pretty easily. On more-exotic and simply newer lens designs,at least for crop-sensored bodies, Nikon's the clear leader bokeh-wise and in terms of filling niches, Nikon's done an amazing job of producing a FEW select,spectacular optics that are designed to be part of a six-lens complete kit,with the focal lengths of 14-24,24-70,and 70-200,60mm,105mm Macro,200mm,200-400mm zoom,and 300, all covered with super, brand-new optical designs that are state of the art. Plus the above-mentioned series of three tilt/shift Nikkor lenses. Lens advantage: NIKON. If this were a football game, I'd score it Nikon 35, Canon 27.

Final thoughts: Now that the D700 is actually OUT and in the hands of reviewers and NPS early orderers,we can see that the D700's higher range ISO performance is actually virtually identical to that of the D3,and that the boosted settings of the D700 are really quite GOOD. So,my pre-release feeling that the D3 might be a bit better than the D700 at the ultra-high ISO settings of 6,400, 12,500,and 25,600 might be in error: reviewers whom I trust have said the D700's imager is exactly the same as in the D3,and that the image quality of the D700 is the image quality of the D3. Wow. All I can say is--Canon's 5D follow-up camera had better be pretty damned good. And yet still,at the current $1,900 price, the 5D represents an amazing deal in image quality for those who can handle the rather pedestrian subsystems the 5 has. And to those of you who have never shot a 1-series or 2-series Nikon or a 1-series Canon,please stop trying to convince others how good the 5D's AF system is. No, the 5D's autofocus system is far from qualifying as a pro-caliber AF system or a pro-caliber body. The 5D is a great imager,in a mid-level body design that's 3 years old.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

iso is the same as the D3 200-6400 with 100 and 25,600 with boost.

Nice blog.