Whether you’re an amateur or professional shooter the choice of which camera brand and format to buy can be daunting. Often after you’ve shot with it for a while another round of soul-searching can happen as you better understand the strengths and limitations of your gear, and consider where your photography and/or videography is going to take you. I suppose we all go on our own ‘gear journey’…this is mine.
Like the vast majority of Nikon DSLR shooters I started with DX gear, ending up with a D7000 and some of the better performing Nikkor DX lenses like the 16-85mm VR f/3.5-5.6, the 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5, the 35mm f/1.8, and the 85mm micro f/3.5. I also had one FX lens, the 70-300 VR f/3.5-5.6. It was cost effective and gave me the flexibility I needed. If my business hadn’t expanded into doing a lot more video work than still photography, I quite likely would still be shooting with it today.
I loved the dynamic range and colour depth of the D7000, as well as the weather sealing, dual card slots and a host of other features. Low light performance was quite good and I could regularly shoot stills at ISO1600 without hesitation. For the money it was simply the best cropped sensor camera on the market for still photography. At the time, it was the only Nikon body that could shoot 1080HD video, albeit only at 24p. Doing a lot of video work wasn’t on my radar screen, but I wanted to make sure I could offer 1080 HD to clients if the opportunity arose.
The D7000 DX-based kit served me well for the industrial photography work I was doing, It didn’t take long before clients started asking me if I could also do video for them. I was ready and gladly took on the projects. I bought more video related gear like a follow focus, a camera slider and a decent fluid video head. Having those tools allowed me to add good production value to the projects I was getting. Pretty soon my video work began to grow rapidly, becoming a higher percentage of my revenue than was my still photography work.
That was when the video limitations of my D7000 started to show up. Adding camera movements in my video shots were tricky as shooting in 24p can make things a bit choppy if I wasn’t careful. Moire was more common than I would have liked. Some clients began asking if I could shoot 1080 HD in 30p. And, I was getting frustrated having to go in and out of live-view every time I needed to change aperture when shooting a video clip.
As luck would have it (or so I thought), the D600 arrived on the scene. I thought it was a god-send. A ‘reasonably-priced’ FX camera that offered shallow depth-of-field for more creativity. Great low light performance. And, it could shoot 1080 HD video in 30p, which was my most urgent client need. I could clearly see the additional creative options that an FX body would give me for my business. So, I took the plunge and I was an early adopter and bought one of the first D600s available in Canada. Along with the kit lens, I added a couple of ‘pro-grade’ constant aperture Nikkor FX zooms to my kit (16-35 F/4 VR and 70-200 f/4 VR).
While the D600 ended up being a disaster with dust/oil spot issues, I did learn the value of an FX body in terms of overall image quality, low light performance for stills, and the creativity that can come from shallow depth-of-field. I also learned that DSLRs can be very unpredictable when it comes to video performance. The D600 was a poster child for moire, far worse than my D7000. I loved shooting stills with the D600, and the FX sensor spoiled me. I tried to put up with the oil/dust issues but after almost 8 months of heartache, and going through three different copies of the D600 I finally moved up to a D800. I made the move with some trepidation though. It meant another card format, larger files to deal with, and more money.
I fell in love with the D800 immediately, and still love it today. The video quality is terrific with very little moire. And, for still photography I don’t think there is a better DSLR for the kind of work I do…fantastic dynamic range, great colour depth, very good low light performance, and wonderfully detailed images.
My D7000, which had been a rock solid performer for me, was relegated to a back-up role and virtually never came out of my bag. The D800 was doing dual duty as an FX and a DX body, and I found it easier to change the image size setting in the camera, rather than change bodies when I was on a shoot. I guess I’m a bit lazy.
Crunch time had arrived. It just didn’t make sense for me to hang on to the D7000 from a business standpoint. It had become redundant to my still photography and video needs because of a dramatic change in the kind of client work I was doing.
What to do? I could change DX bodies for one with better video like the D5200…but then I would still have the same live-view/aperture issue I had with the D7000 Plus, no weather sealing. But there were positives. After lying on my belly in numerous factories and warehouses setting up low angle video shots, the flip screen on the D5200 did look appealing. I researched the D5200 video quality and discovered it was Nikon’s best performing DSLR regardless of price (note: the D5200 has since been replaced by the D5300 which is also highly regarded for its video capability). It was very tempting…but was that really the best decision?
The other option was to change brands and make my second camera a Panasonic GH3, or maybe a Sony, or an Olympus, but that would mean even more money with additional lenses. Some of them were quite expensive as well. And, I wasn’t sure about video file format differences between those cameras and my D800.
Enter the Nikon 1 V2. It had a small CX sensor which I REALLY liked. It would give me much deeper depth-of-field at any given aperture which would be very useful from a creative standpoint, especially when forced to shoot video at f/1.8 or f/2.0 in lower light conditions. I’d get complete control of shutter speed and aperture with external controls and no live-view hassle when shooting video (at the time only high end ‘pro’ Nikon FX bodies allowed this feature). Plus, I could use all of my existing Nikkor glass if I bought the FT-1 adapter. It would give me significantly more reach with any of my FX lenses for both stills and video. The native 1 Nikon lenses were limited in terms of selection…but they were pretty decent quality and quite inexpensive, so I could put a small CX system together and not break the bank. Plus the V2 could shoot the video specs I needed in a very small body that I could put in hard to access places…which is quite common when doing industrial video productions. I was sold.
The Nikon 1 V2 with a couple of kit zoom lenses were added to my kit, and the V2 very quickly became my second camera for all of my video projects. Unlike DX and FX format Nikon cameras, every bit of the sensor is read when shooting video with a Nikon 1 body. So, the line skipping used in DX and FX bodies is avoided, and with it, most of the moire issues. The ISO noise performance with the V2 in video is actually better than when it is used to shoot stills. When shooting video up to ISO800 it is pretty close to the D800 and the V2 can be pushed to ISO1600 and still produce acceptable results. Was I expecting the Nikon 1 V2 to replace my D7000 in terms of still image quality? Not a chance.
I initially kept my D7000 and my DX lenses. Even though I wasn’t using it much at all any more, knowing that it was in my bag did give me a huge feeling of comfort when going on a client shoot.
Eventually I came to the realization that from a business standpoint I couldn’t justify having money tied up in a DX body and lenses that I wasn’t using. Camera bodies aren’t like wine…they don’t go up in value the longer you keep them. When I read rumors about a potential D7100 coming out I knew it was time to make a move and sell my DX system. It was like saying goodbye to a great friend. Within a short time it was all sold at decent prices. A confirmation of the reputation that Nikon gear has in the market place is that it holds its value quite well. And, with the popularity of the DX format there is always a good market for a well-respected Nikon body like the D7000.
I reinvested the money in some Nikkor FX primes (the f/1.8 trinity, 28mm, 50mm and 85mm) and more 1 Nikon lenses to round out my FX/CX video shooting capability and enhance my full frame still photography arsenal.
What’s next for me on my photo gear journey? Likely a long telephoto zoom. I’ll be doing a review for Photography Life on the Nikon-mount Tamron 150-600 VC when it becomes available within the next couple of months. Depending on how it performs with my D800 (in FX and DX mode) and my V2 I may buy one.
Anything else on my mind? Well, after getting over my initial, huge disappointment with the DxOMark scores on the Nikon 1 V3 I am re-examining that option for my business. The Nikon 1 V3’s video capabilities are what may win me over. There is a lot to like from a videographer’s viewpoint… 1080 HD in 60p, 720 HD in 120p, flip screen with touch screen focusing for easy rack focusing, movie E-VR to reduce camera shake when shooting hand-held video, and a handy 10-30mm power zoom. There are things about the Nikon 1 V3 I don’t like: price, micro SD chip, and yet another new battery from Nikon.
At the end of the day it’s just a business decision about return-on-investment. I know the V3 would add some additional higher-end production value to my video work, and could lead to additional video assignments because of the additional capabilities. If it does then the $1,200 investment will be recouped with the very next video project.
I’m also intrigued with the new 1 Nikon 70-300 f/3.5-5.6 zoom that has an equivalent field-of-view of 189-810mm. Could it be possible that this lens on a Nikon 1 V3 or my V2 could outperform the Tamron 150-600 VC on my D800 when shooting in DX crop mode? I don’t know…but I intend to find out….that may be another review on Photography Life!
It was a dramatic shift in my client work towards video, coupled with limited Nikon product choices in terms of video capability that caused me to move into FX, then CX, and to eventually sell all my Nikon DX gear. If my business had remained centred on still photography I could very well still be shooting with DX gear today.
My ‘gear journey’ story likely is far from being typical. The vast majority of camera owners don’t own gear with the intent of making an income with it. And, I suspect most professional photographers don’t make the majority of their income from doing video either.
So, what about you? What kind of decision making processes have you gone through when you’ve decided to add gear, or sell gear? Or change camera brands? Do you have any current dilemmas? Photography Life has lots of very experienced readers who may be able to help with your current dilemma. Let us know, and share your stories.
Article Copyright 2014, Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, reproduction or duplication including electronic is allowed without written consent.