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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Nikon D90 - The Perfect DSLR For Just About Anyone

Nikon D90 - The Perfect DSLR
I get people asking me all the time what DSLR they should buy. I used to tailor my recommendations based on a number of questions concerning what they're going to use it for. Nowadays, my answer is almost always, buy a Nikon D90.

It's the perfect DSLR for just about everyone!

The Nikon D90 is an amazing DSLR camera at an amazing price point.

Prior to the D90, I'm not sure I would've had a recommendation for the PERFECT DSLR for everyone. There were so many variables and so many pluses and minuses to most DSLR cameras.

And then along came the Nikon D90.

The D90 is advanced enough for all but the most demanding professionals to use, yet approachable enough for the beginning hobbyist. The D90 is so well built, so well designed, so well spec'ed, and such a great price, that it takes the cake for best value out there in the DSLR market.

I find myself picking up my D90 over any of my other cameras almost all the time now. My Nikon D300 sits lonely in my camera bag, upstaged by it's little brother. The lighter body of the D90 is so pleasant to work with, and I love the versatility of the 18-105 VR lens that I bought with it.

The image quality of the D90 is top notch. 12MP never looked so good! While other manufacturers are trying to jam more and more megapixels into a crop sensor DSLR, Nikon understands that 12 megapixels is more than almost anybody needs and that quality trumps quantity. We don't need more megapixels. Give us better IQ, dynamic range, and high ISO ability.

The D90 is rugged and well built. The body is solid and capable of taking a beating, yet light and compact enough to not pull your neck out of shape or your back out of joint.

The D90 auto focus is best in class. Only the flagship auto focus system in the Nikon D300s, D3s, D700, or D3x is better, and for most uses, you'll never notice the difference. Unlike a lot of Canon DSLR's that seem chronically plagued with back focus, front focus, and out of focus problems, the Nikon D90 auto focus system just works.

Unless you're a professional who requires the ABSOLUTE best DSLR on the market, the Nikon D90 is probably more camera than you'll ever need. Even professionals who require the top of the line DSLR's will find the Nikon D90 to be a great back-up camera.

If you're in the market for a DSLR, check out the Nikon D90. You won't be dissappointed!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to make a Crop Sensor DSLR Photo Indistinguishable from a Full Frame DSLR Photo.

1) Shoot at the lowest ISO possible. The lower the ISO the lower the noise, and the better quality image. The base ISO of your DSLR is its sweet spot. For most Nikon DSLR cameras, that’s going to be ISO 200. Leave it there if you can.

2) Shoot tight. Frame your shot to fill the frame. Maximize those pixels. When you fill the frame with your subject, you get more image to work with. When you don’t shoot tight and have to crop, you lose resolution. When you fill your frame with your subject, you get the maximum resolution which translates into the best image quality you can get out of your DSLR.

3) Use the best glass you own, and know where the sweet spot is. Where is your lens sharpest with the best contrast and color characteristics? You should be shooting at that f-stop, or as close to it as possible. Know your lens and use it to its maximum potential.

4) Perhaps the most important of all, light your shot properly. Whether you’re using speedlights off camera, or more powerful lights like Alien Bees, spend the time to make sure your lighting is perfect. Lighting is perhaps the single greatest variable that can make or break a shot. You can get an incredible image from a small point and shoot like the Canon G10 if you light it properly. Lighting is the single biggest factor in levelling the playing field between crop sensor DSLR cameras and full frame DSLR cameras. Lighting is everything!

5) Shoot RAW to maximize image quality. If you’re not already shooting RAW, start now! There’s just no comparison between RAW and JPG. When it comes to maximizing image quality, RAW is where its at, not to mention all the additional benefits of RAW like overexposure recovery, white balance correction, and on and on. There are times when shooting JPG is fine. This isn’t one of them. When you’re looking to maximize image quality, shoot RAW.

6) For that little edge… to get that little smidgeon of image quality… develop your RAW image using your camera’s own RAW processor. If you shoot Canon, use DPP. If you shoot Nikon, use NikonView or Capture.You’ll almost always get a little better image. Nothing earth shattering, but it’s usually enough to be noticeable, if ever so slightly.

Follow these tips and you’ll find your images from your crop sensor DSLR are indistinguishable from those of a full frame DSLR camera. Not only that, you’ll find your images are just better all around. You might just surprise yourself at how good they are.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Full Frame DSLR Camera or Crop Sensor DSLR Camera… What to do?

So, the new Nikon D300S is out. It's a great camera, and it's a crop sensor DSLR camera. Likewise, the new Canon 7D is out, and it has some great things going for it too. It's also a crop sensor DSLR camera.

Both Nikon and Canon have many other great crop sensor DSLR cameras in their line-up like the Nikon D90, Nikon D5000, Nikon D3000, Canon EOS 50D, Canon Rebel T1i, Canon Rebel Xsi, and the Canon Rebel XS.

Then you’ve got the new Nikon D3s full frame DSLR camera, and it’s a fantastic piece of equipment. Likewise, the Canon 5D MkII is a full frame DSLR camera that many Canon shooters have fallen in love with. There’s also the Nikon D700, another great full frame DSLR camera, and the Nikon D3X, the full frame DSLR camera that is Nikon’s flagship offering. Canon has the 1DsMkIII full frame DSLR which is the current Canon flagship.

Which is better, crop sensor or full frame?

Why do the full frame DSLR cameras cost so much more?

So what do you need? Will a crop sensor DSLR camera do the job, or do you need to step up to a full frame DSLR camera?

As many people have found out, there aren’t any simple, cut and dry answers to these questions, but I’m going to try and help simplify things for you.

First off, let’s look at which is better… crop sensor or full frame. The short answer is neither. Many people will tell you that full frame is better. If you’re a professional photographer, you’ve probably been told that you should shoot full frame as it’s better, or more professional, or that you’re not doing right by your clients unless your using one of the latest and greatest full frame DSLR cameras.

There’s no question that full frame DSLR cameras are great. No question that they are capable of amazing image quality. No question that a full frame DSLR like the Nikon D3s is capable of delivering mind blowing image quality at insanely high ISO settings. You can practically shoot in the dark with that thing!

But does that suddenly mean that anything less than a full frame DSLR isn’t capable delivering a great photo?

There are some incredible photographers shooting with crop sensor DSLR cameras and creating amazing images. Loads of incredible images were captured on crop sensor DSLR cameras before full frame DSLR cameras were even available. Some top notch photographers have even gone back to crop sensor DSLR cameras from full frame. Case in point, the new 7D. More than a few photographers have decided it suits them better than the full frame 5D MkII. Are they suddenly going to have worse photos because they’ve gone from a full frame DSLR to a crop sensor DSLR? They don’t think so, their clients don’t think so, and I don’t think so.

I myself am still quite content shooting with my Nikon D300 and Nikon D90, both crop sensor DSLR cameras, and both capable of incredibly good image quality. For the bulk of what I do (portraits and weddings), the venerable little D90 is more than capable of getting the job done. Sometimes I prefer the D300’s slightly better auto focus, but the trade off is that the D300 is heavier.

There are times when I’m shooting in dim lighting that the D3s or D700 would be nice for their super high ISO abilities, but I can even the playing field by knowing how to light properly. A single, inexpensive flash unit can make a shot from a D3s and D90 indistinguishable for all intents and purposes. And a single, inexpensive flash unit is a hell of a lot cheaper than purchasing a D3s.

With proper lighting, I’m perfectly comfortable shooting with any DSLR, whether it’s a $400 or $10,000 camera. Even my little Canon G10 is capable of amazing quality with the right lighting. The point is, you don’t need a full frame DSLR to take good photos. You don’t even need a high end crop sensor DSLR to take good photos. A good photographer can take a great photo with ANY DSLR on the market today.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t times when you might benefit from some of the advanced features of the higher end crop sensor or full frame cameras. My point is that you likely don’t NEED a full frame DSLR camera. You may want one, but you probably don’t NEED one.

If you’re an amateur hobbyist who takes nature photos, landscapes, and maybe some family photos, a crop sensor DSLR camera like the Nikon D90 or Canon T1i will do just fine. Even one of the lower end DSLR cameras may be all you need.

Advanced amateurs can still do just fine with a Nikon D90 or Canon T1i. Even professionals like myself find DSLR cameras at this level to be more than adequate for most jobs. It comes down to choosing the right tool for the job, and in a lot of cases, the top end DSLR cameras are OVERKILL.

So, the short answer is NO, full frame DSLR cameras are not necessarily better. They may have advanced features such as super high ISO or crazy accurate auto focus that are better or necessary on some jobs, but I don’t think its correct to say they’re better. They’re different. Some nature photographer actually prefer the crop sensor for it’s 1.5X extra reach, but does that make a crop sensor DSLR better than a full frame DSLR? No. They may be better for a specific job requirement like nature photography, but they’re not flat out better. Different horses for different courses.

Let’s look at it from a cost perspective. Full frame DSLR cameras are MUCH more expensive, especially when you’re talking the flagship bodies like the Nikon D3X and the Canon 1DsMkIII. The reason for this is quite simple.

Sensors are basically get cut from a larger sheet of sensor material if you will. You can cut more crop sensors out of a single sheet of a given size than you can full frame sensors. This also makes it more efficient to make crop sensors as there is less waste as well, hence an added cost savings for crop sensors and cost increase for full frame sensors. Factor in the cost of bad sensors (i.e. how many sensors are bad and go to waste out of a given number), and the cost of full frame is even higher in relation to crop sensors. It costs less to throw out a bad crop sensor off the production line than it does a full frame sensor.

Of course, you’re also paying a premium for the full frame sensor simply because they’re still newer and perceived to more desirable. Pure and simple. Like a high brand product that is no better than a relatively unknown brand product, the one costs more than the other.

Now, with that said, and understanding a little more of why full frame DSLR cameras are more expensive, let’s consider the value vs. cost of full frame vs. crop sensor DSLR cameras. For the sake of argument, let’s use the Nikon D700 and the Nikon D90. The Nikon D700 lists for $2899.99 here in Canada at Henrys. The Nikon D90 lists for $1019.99. (If you’re in the USA, UK, or someplace else, feel free to substitute local pricing. It’ll still make the point nicely.)

You can buy almost three Nikon D90 DSLR bodies for the price of one Nikon D700 body, or you could buy one D90 and some nice lenses and a couple of flashes. Proper lighting will almost always do more for you than a full frame DSLR will.

So the question is, do you really need the full frame D700 bad enough to spend 3X the price of a D90?

Some will still say yes, and that’s fine. Just be aware of why you’re saying so. Most don’t need the D700... they just want it, often REALLY bad. Some do actually need the D700 over the D90. Some need an even more expensive camera like the Nikon D3s or the Nikon D3X. The point is, be aware of what you need and what you want. I want a D700 REALLY badly, but I don’t NEED one. I’ll likely get one at some point, and I know the main reason is the POWER file it generates (as my good friend Peter Gregg likes to call them) and the SUPER clean high ISO. I often shoot in dim lighting, so the amazing high ISO will be welcome. That said, I’m creating great images with my D300 and my D90. The D700 is mostly a WANT.

If you don’t have a real need for a full frame DSLR, then you get better value for your money by buying a crop sensor camera like the D90.

Factor in too that DSLR cameras do not hold their value well. Within a relatively short period of time, your DSLR will be worth less than half of what you paid for it, no matter which one you buy. So, the more expensive DSLR you buy, the more money you lose when its time to upgrade. If you make your living with your camera, its not so bad as you can write it off and use it to make more money. If you’re a hobbyist, the fast depreciation of your DSLR probably hurts a little more. Spend more, hurt more.

I’d be remiss not to note the WANT factor as being valid in and of itself. If you’re like me, you love to have a new high tech toy. If you can afford it, and are aware of the real reasons why you’re buying a more expensive DSLR than you may actually need, go for it! Get a full frame DSLR and enjoy it! Hell, buy the best if money isn’t an issue.

If you’re a struggling photography business owner, maybe you should think twice. Would the extra money be better spent on marketing or improving your photography skills to set you apart in your market? Likely.

Full frame DSLR cameras are great, but there are some great crop sensor cameras too. A good photographer can take an amazing photo with any DSLR on the market today. Good lighting will improve your photography far more than a fancier camera will. Unless you’re on an unrestricted budget, take the time to consider if you really need the more expensive full frame DSLR, or if a less expensive crop sensor DSLR will meet your needs just fine.