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Monday, April 6, 2009

Upgrading your DSLR

Nikon D3X DSLR with lens

A recent question from an aspiring amateur photographer wanting to go pro got me thinking about the whole process of upgrading your gear. I'm as guilty as the next person for wanting the latest and greatest, but is the latest and greatest always neccessary?

The aspiring amateur has a Nikon D200, and had a Nikon D70 before that. I've owned both, and they were both excellent cameras. In fact, any good photographer can still make excellent photos with either.

The D70 even has an advantage over almost every current DSLR on the market. The D70 has a higher flash sync speed (1/500s if memory serves), and can also be tricked to go even higher if you're using wireless flash via Pocketwizards or something similar because the D70 has an electronic shutter.

Here's my response to the aspiring photog...

I've owned and shot both Canon and Nikon.

If you can't afford the current low ISO kings, the D700 or the D3, then a D300 or D90 is a great alternative.

As you can see over at DXO Camera Rankings, the top 3 cameras at the moment are the D3X, D3, and the D700.  Once you're into the lower priced bodies, you'll see that the D90 ranks higher than all the non-D Canon bodies, including the 5D.

Now, I switched back to Nikon from Canon when the D300 came out, and I still shoot with D300's.  I love 'em!  I was shooting a pair of 40D's before I switched back.  The 40D's were good, but nowhere near as good as the D300's over-all.  The 40D focus is hit and miss, especially in comparison with the D300's industry leading autofocus (same as the D3X, D3, and D700's AF).

The D90 came out after the D300, and it has even better high ISO than the D300.  It's a great DSLR, and if I was buying today, I might buy all D90's.

Check out Peter Gregg's 1600 Club Camera Rankings too.  He's got some excellent points in his 1600 Club articles, and uses a very logical system to rank cameras.

To sum up, I'd say a D90 and a 2.8 zoom (check out the Tamron or Sigma 2.8's if you're short on cash) or some Nikon primes (the 1.8's are excellent and won't break your bank account... 35mm, 50mm, 85mmm) will be your best bet.

Nikon D90 DSLR with lens

Yes, I'd likely buy a few D90's instead of my beloved D300's if I were shopping to replace my DSLR's today. Of course I'd love to have the D3X, but I just can't justify spending that kind of money on a body that I really don't need, especially at the pace DSLR's are coming out these days. There is barely an 18 month shelf life on most!

Now that said, I think we've also come to a point where technology has reached a sweet spot. Most of the current DSLR offerings are good enough for most photogs to be able to get the shot. There is less reason these days to up-grade than there used to be even a few years ago. There just isn't that much advantage to up-grading to every new body that comes out as there used to be.

Take the Nikon D100 for example... a great camera in it's day (I know, I owned one). The D70 then came out at half the price, and did everything better. There was good reason to up-grade, and I did.

Then the D200 came out. Again, there was good reason to up-grade, and I did. We got almost twice the MP's, an F100 like body with excellent construction and great AF.

After that, I switched to Canon as they offered some high ISO advantages I wanted.
I shot a 30D/20D combination for a while, and then I shot a 5D/30D combo with an XTi thrown in for a 3rd body. My final Canon combo was a pair of 40D's, which I loved. The 40D's offered better AF, an increase to 10MP (over the 30D), and some other great features that made them a worthwhile up-grade.

With the introduction of the D300, I returned to shooting Nikon with a pair of D300's, which is what I'm currently shooting with. They're great. They're 12MP sensors are very usable at ISO 1600 and even 3200, and 12MP is more than enough for just about anyone's needs. The D300 has the best Auto Focus system on the market today, the same one that is in the Nikon flagship D3X, D3, and D700, and one of the best body's on the market today. My D300's rock, and I'm in no hurry to up-grade.

I thought about a D700 when they came out. The SUPER CLEAN high ISO really is appealing, but it just isn't that much of an advantage to make me pony up $3K for. The body isn't any better (in fact it's the same), and FX is nice and all, but I don't mind the D300's crop sensor.

Now the D3X would be really sweet to shoot with, but $8K!!! Sorry, the divorce will cost me much more on top of that, making the D3X a no deal. I'm not forgetting the D3 either, but it never appealed to me. The D700 would be my choice at that sensor point.

I'm happy with my D300's. I'm making great photos with them, and they're paid for. By skipping this round of up-grades, I'll save plenty of cash I can use for other more important business decisions, and I'll feel fine about buying into the next round of up-grades which will likely be a significant up-grade to my D300's. The D3X chip will eventually appear in a D700 type body, and it will eventually be less than $3K. No, probably not this year, and maybe not next, but it will happen. Just look at the history of DSLR's. It's a given.

If you really want to spend some money (I know, we all like new toys), then consider some new lighting gear or instruction. Lighting, and being able to use light properly, will make more impact on your photography than a new DSLR ever will.

Until then, I'm happily making great photos with my fantastic gear. I'm going to do some shooting right now... you should too!

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