Like most people, I lust for the newest and best, whether we’re talking about cars, computers, smart phones or of course, photo gear.
I absolutely lust for a Leica S2, the new 37.5 MP, near medium format DSLR that, sadly, with a single “normal” 70mm lens runs roughly $28,000 dollars.
Likewise for a Nikon D3x the 24mp DSLR which body only can be had for a more reasonable, but still rather princely sum of $7400. Given the state of the economy, and a kid going to college, it’s just not happening.
Having huge amounts of real resolution on a very high quality, big pixel imager has wonderful advantages in terms of maximum print size, and allows the photographer great latitude in terms of cropping. With so much data, you can crop away half the image and still make a respectable print.
Bodies such as the Leica and the D3x are built for professionals and can tolerate a lot of abuse in the field. They handle wonderfully, and are designed to facilitate rapid changes in settings, mainly through external buttons and controls.
With these wonderful attributes, there are also demands placed on the photographer who uses such wonderful gear. High resolution imagers require high quality glass. You can’t just slap on the 18-55mm “kit lens” you got with your D40 on a D3x. In fact, that particular DX format lens will only illuminate a portion of the D3x’s FX format imager. To utilize the power of this fine instrument, you will need excellent quality full frame lenses. Price-wise, think $1500+ for Nikkor zooms, though excellent primes can be had for much less. Leica glass is much more expensive.
A second issue has to do with technique. High resolution means that fine detail is visible in the image, particularly the details of how you screwed up. Failing to prevent minute camera movements caused by clumsily stabbing the shutter and/or by so-called “Mirror Slap” can reduce the preservation of details to the point where the capture resembles a much lower resolution image. Factor in to the price of the camera, the cost of a very high quality tripod and head, sturdy enough to handle this heavy camera body/lens combo and perhaps a remote shutter release, and you can easily add $800 to the price tag.
Nonetheless, do I want these cameras? Yes, I do.
Do I need them? Probably, I do not.
First I can only print photos in my studio at 16”x22” or smaller. I have never been asked by a client for a print larger than 24”x 30”. High quality 12 MP imagers, well utilized, can provide very nice files for such prints.
Enter another Nikon body… the D2x.
I already own one of these, having purchased it roughly three years ago as a “Factory Refurb” for about 3K (it retailed for around $5000). Much to my chagrin, I now see them “lightly used”, on EBay for $800-$900.
The D2x was introduced in 2005. It was hailed at the time as a breakthrough product, and brought a lot of pro shooters back from Canon to Nikon.
The body design formed the basis for the current D3 series cameras and thus is very similar in design, and equally stout.
It looks to be the last of the pro-level DX format cameras which means that it can utilize all of the lenses I own, whether FX or DX. Because of the 1.5x crop factor, it makes makes the long zooms shoot even longer. Dx imagers also have increased apparent depth of field compared to larger sensors which is great for landscapes, but can be a problem at times, for portrait work.
Wide angle lenses on DX are another story, as they inconveniently get longer too. There are however, some wonderfull 11-12mm wide zoom options available for DX format, getting us down to a 17-18mm field of view (full frame equivelent).
Another piece of good news for DX: their smaller sensors utilize only the center portion of a full frame lens. This tends to make good lenses shoot great.
IThe D2x has a cropped mode shooting 7MP files (more than enough for most photojournalism) at 8 frames per second, or it will shoot a full 12 MP image at 5ffp. This performance lags behind current pro Nikon offerings, but who cares…8 frames per second sounds like a machine gun.
It has extremely fast and accurate auto focus, and very reliable metering. It is compatible with Nikon’s newest flashguns using the i-TTL system.
And, when used thoughtfully, it captures beautiful, detailed images. I tend to use it for landscape photography, but it is particularly useful for shooting sports in outdoor venues where the light is good.
It’s big disadvantage has to do with low light shooting. It produces nice work up to about ISO 800, when noise begins to set in. Later Nikon DX offerings like the D-300 do better with this, and the FX Nikons, such as my D-700, do much better. Happily, the noise seen in high ISO D2x images has a nice fine luminance noise (rather than blotchy color noise) that resembles the “grain” in old high sensitivity black and white film.
It’s really well built and sealed. I’ve stood on the sideline of a football game in heavy rain shooting the D2x paired with the equally rugged Nikkor 70-200mm VR with nary a worry about the equipment. When the rain stops, you just towel everything off, and keep shooting.
There are lots of other features that make “pro level” Nikons so wonderful to use.
So why talk about an old camera?
If you’re a talented amateur, or person getting started on a pro career in photography, you may not have the $4500 to blow on a current Nikon pro body. $800 will barely by you a D-90 which is a very nice plastic bodied 12 megapixel DX camera, but no where near as capable, tunable, or rugged as a D2x. Nice as the consumer Nikons are, is there is an intangible joy to owning an instrument as nicely built and designed as a D2 series camera.
I will admittedly, continue to lurk on EBay, watching for D3x prices to fall into my range. It may be a long wait.
For now however, I’m very content with the Nikons I already own.