Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Nikon D700 to Rise in Price

Buy a Nikon D700 now before the price goes up, seriously! With the release of the Nikon D600 last week, Nikon made it perfectly clear that the D700 was a mistake and that there was not going to be a successor model. Why say mistake? Well, back in 2008, Nikon was neck-in-neck with Canon and needed some hot product to take itself into the lead. That camera was the D700. As for why it was a mistake, now ahead of Canon, Nikon has no need to launch a camera that is 95% of a D4 for half the price like the D700 was to the D3 for risk of cannibalizing flagship model sales.

Result: no D700 update is in the offing.

By looking at Nikon's current lineup, one sees that it is trying to clearly situate its new products into their own, specific niches. First up, the D4 and upcoming D4x, which are the top bananas of Nikon and armed with every bit of technology that the company can muster. Taking a step down, there's the D800/D800E, lightweight pro models that take many cues from the D4 line but are missing just enough so as to make them completely different animals, but with enough resolution to challenge medium format cameras, which cost several times as much. Stepping down another notch and crossing the proverbial line in the sand, one is now in amateur territory with the D600, which takes a lot of its design, and vastly inferior user interface, from the DX D7000. Below the D600, there's the rest of the DX line consisting of the old D7000 and D5100 as well as the new D3200.

Clearly, there's no room for a low-Mp, D4 lite, as the D700 was to the D3, which makes the D700 the first and last of its kind an an instantly hot item for serious photographers on a budget.

In the age of technology, it is uncommon for anything that is considered obsolete to appreciate in price, but it is not unheard of, even for digital cameras. Back in 2005, Canon announced the EOS 20Da, with the 'a' standing for 'astro' as the camera was specifically designed for astronomical photography of deep space objects through telescopes. New, the camera sold for around $1600. However, citing poor sales, Canon discontinued the camera the following year, at which point used 20Das started selling on Ebay for $3000, or more! Why? There was simply nothing else like it anywhere else.

Come 2012, the same could be true of the Nikon D700 as Nikon has a pair of current choices, bboth of which may be undesirable for many. First up, the D800. Loaded with a 36Mp sensor, the D800's files are so big that they will quickly clog the workflow of anyone who likes to process his or her pictures, especially if one is shooting in NEF (RAW) mode. Along with the camera one had better invest in a high-powered computer, too! In addition, thanks to having to process such a huge amount of data, the D800 is a bit of a slow poke, only able to manage 4 fps. The D600, well, it's a great imaging machine but its user interface just plain sucks.

Together, these drawbacks of both the D800s and D600 go to make the D700 all the more attractive as the D700 has the pro-grade control system, files that are small enough to manage (though plenty big for most people), a lot of speed (it can do 8fps with the battery grip), and a price tag under $2500. Oh, yes, the D700 has better noise performance than the D600, too.

So, what' s going to happen? My take: after the D700, which is selling for around $2300 new right now becomes unavailable as factory new, look for scalpers who have been hoarding D700s and showing up on Ebay and other online auction sites with the cameras, along with the idiots who will be willing to pay upwards of $3000 for them. Bottom line: if you want to pick up a D700, don't wait around as they're not going to be sticking around for long anymore. If you can't find a new D700, don't hesitate to buy a factory refurb as they're the same as new, perhaps even better since you know the camera's been given an extensive going-over by a Nikon tech.

Any way you slice it, the D700 is the end of the line, so get yours now before they're gone-forever.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

In-Hand Feel: Nikon D600 vs. D800

Which should I buy? D600 or D800? For many current and prospective Nikon shooters, the company has created quite a dilemma in that it now offers two full-frame cameras in the sub-$3000 market: the $3000 D800 and the $2100 D600. Now, both cameras have clear-cut differences both in body and under the hood, if you will. The big question: am I willing to forgo the advantages of the D800 in order to save $900?

Well, let's examine the question.

The key issue for current Nikon shooters is that the D600 is different in user interface than the D800. For people not familiar with the D600, Nikon has essentially stuffed a 24Mp FX sensor into a D7000 body and called it the D600. As for the D800, it is essentially an old D700 with a monster 36Mp chip in it. The big difference here: the two cameras are laid out completely different in terms of controls, which could go a long way in helping one decide which to buy depending on current equipment and future aspirations. .

So, how big are the differences?
Starting at the upper left, on both the D7000 and D300s, the two buttons (enter playback mode and delete) are absolutely identical, no differences (or learning curve) here.

The backs of the cameras

Looking at the left side of the camera, one notices that both cameras have 5 buttons. On the D600, all of them are dual in function while on the D800, only 1 is dual. First off, the easy part, the 'ok' button on the D800 (bottom on the left row) has moved to the center of the multi-selector on the D600, which is a good thing in that this button is used to confirm menu settings, which means that the operation of changing menu selections on the D600 is a one-thumb operation. On the D800, there is some redundancy as there is both the 'ok' button and another unmarked one in the center of the multi-selector. In place of the 'ok' button, the D600 gains direct access to picture style color modes (the paintbrush button). Now, onto the remaining buttons, they're identical in their playback functions on both cameras. Unfortunately, the bottom 3 on the D600 are dual function and have different functions in shooting mode. On the D600, these buttons, when in shooting mode, control ISO, white balance, and file quality, all 3 of which are controlled by single function buttons on the top left of the D800. Now, this is better than Canon where what dual function buttons do is dependent on which wheel you spin, but not as good on the higher-level Nikons where there are no dual functions at all. Also, the enter playback and delete buttons are the same on both cameras, too.

Looking at the right side of the camera and working from the top down, one notices that the 'AF-ON' button on the D800 is missing on the D600. In my opinion, good riddance, why would anyone use the rear button to focus when the same thing can be done by half pressing the shutter button? In terms of functionality, it's a mixed bag with the 'AE-L/AF-L' button. Both D600 and D800 have this function. Unfortunately, the D600 loses the control over metering that the D800 allows by turning this same switch. On the D600, metering is controlled by a button on the top right of the camera, which means having to look at the top side LCD display when changing metering modes. Moving down, everything else is the same.

The tops of the cameras.

Moving to the top right of the camera, things are almost the same here, save the button located closest to the LCD screen, which controls metering on the D600 and mode on the D800.
Coming to the top left of the camera, we see some other differences. First, the similarity is that both D600 and the D800 share the drive mode dial, which includes functions like frame rate, self- timer, quiet mode, and mirror lock up. The only real difference here is in how the dial is unlocked, which is done by a button in front of the dial on the D800 and by a button in the middle of the shooting mode dial on the D600. Personally, the D800 feels a lot less cramped (especially if you have big hands). However, on top of the drive mode dial, things get different. The D800 has single-function buttons for ISO, white balance, bracketing, and file quality while the D600 has a more amateurish mode dial as the ISO, WB, and quality functions are moved to the rear of the camera via dual function buttons on the left of the LCD and the bracketing button to the front of the camera where it is impossible to see at all. The good news is that the D600 has user-defined settings where you can save all your shooting parameters to the camera's built-in memory, essentially making your defined settings a shooting mode! This is a feature completely missing on the D800.
Finally, onto the front of the camera. Both cameras share a flash pop-up button in the same location. However, the new D600 adds an exposure bracketing button below the pop-up button. On the D800, this control is located on the top left with the ISO, WB, and quality buttons. Both cameras also feature the new style of AF/MF button, which can control AF mode and area via the cameras' control dials. Selections are displayed on the top side LCD screen. On the right side of the camera, both models are virtually identical in that they both have 2 buttons which can be assigned various functions. Unfortunately, unlike on the D800, these buttons cannot be used to control aperture during video recording, which means that aperture must be set (and the results lived with) on the D600 before shooting. Lastly, the D600 has all of its ports on the left side of the camera while the D800 retains a pair on the front.

So, after reading all of this, where do we get clear-cut advantages one way or the other?

Pros for D600
No pointless AF button on back of camera
Direct access to picture styles
All connection ports are in the same place

Pros for D800
Buttons are single function
Metering control is on rear of camera, no need to look at LCD screen
Bracketing button is on top left
Multi-purpose buttons on right front can control aperture in video mode

So, which to buy: D600 or D800?

For starters, there's no doubt about it: the $900 more expensive D800 is far and away the better camera in terms of user interface thanks to all of those single function buttons. On the other hand, for $900 less, the D600 is no clunker as it offers about 90% the functionality of the D800, albeit in a very differently-wrapped package. As for which to buy, it boils down to where you're coming from and where you plan on going.

If you own a D700 or D300/D300s, just get the D800. Yes, the cameras have a few different controls on them but are, for the most part, virtually identical in layout, which means a minimal learning curve when just starting to use the new one. As someone who owns a D700 and who has played with a D7000, believe me, you'll hate the D600's control scheme as all of those dual function buttons are a real pain in the neck after being spoiled by single function ones. If you own a D3 or a D4 and are looking for a second body (especially if you're a pro/semi-pro), just get the D800 as the story's the same here, too as the D3/D4's controls are virtually identical to those on the D800, which means that you can transition from one body to the other without having to stop and ask yourself what you're doing..

Now, if you own a D7000 and are looking to upgrade to FF, get the D600 as, as was the case for D700, D300, D3/4 owners with the D800, the same is true here as, while a few things are different, the D7000 and D600 share a virtually identical user interface, which means that there will be virtually no feeling-out process when stepping up to the D600. The catch here: as is always the case for some people, upgrading to better gear will only satisfy one's appetite for so long, which would mean buying an even higher-end camera, namely a D800 or D4. If you think that you may be wanting to upgrade from the D600 at some point in the future, just do yourself a favor and buy the D800 now as, in addition to eliminating the learning curve that will come with a D600 to D800 transition, you're saving at least $2000 in the process by buying nice, not twice.

Either way, in terms of imaging, both are great cameras, with the issue really boiling down to the in-hand feel, so be sure to play around with both before buying if you're on the fence.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

The D600: Proof Nikon is Asleep at the Wheel (or at Least Way too Complacent)

Yesterday, Nikon announced the D600, the world's smallest, lightest, and most affordable full frame dSLR. Unfortunately, the camera also signals the fact that Nikon has lost hold of its title as the leading photographer-orientated company to Canon as the D600 is really nothing more than a glorified D7000, which is clearly an amateur camera.

Long story short as to why the D600 is a disappointment: the control layout. By looking at the D600, one sees that ity is merely a D7000 with a larger sensor packed into a slightly larger body, clearly not the direct successor to the D700 many people were hoping for. As to why the D600 is is an amateur camera, just look at all of the dual function buttons on it vs. the layout on the D300s and up models, which all feature single function buttons, which are a lot more user-friendly. For a visual comparison, go to my D300s vs. D7000 comparison, which could very well be D800 vs. D600 today as the user interfaces are virtually the same.

As for why the D600 signifies that Nikon has lost its way or, at the very least, grown complacent, it is virtually the same story a was the case with Canon 5-6 years ago.

Once upon a time at the start of the digital a decade ago, Canon had the best sensors in the dSLR market, bar none. Result: Canon could sell cameras on image quality alone. At the time, Nikon had superior feature sets and ergonomics but it didn't matter because, at anything over ISO 400 (this was 10 years ago), the pictures were a noisy mess. Canon? Smooth as silk.

By 2005 and in order to try and close the gap, Nikon was cranking out what was essentially a pro-grade APS-C camera, the D200, and selling it for $1800 despite the fact that it was 95% of the $5000 D2 models. Canon? Still the undisputed leader in image quality, it was resting on its laurels, making only minor updates to its dSLR line while touting “a proven formula,” creating a FF Digital Rebel (the 5D), and keeping all the best technology and features in the top-tier 1D line so as to avoid cannibalizing sales of its flagship models.

Then came 2007 and the 1-2 punch of the D3 and D300.

Overnight, Nikon bested Canon on the image quality front. That, combined with Nikon's generosity in letting pro-grade features trickle down to sub $2000 models made Canon's anything but 1D offerings suddenly look like junk. Since then, Canon has had to play catch-up and has only now, as of 2012 and the 1Dx and 5D Mark III (which is the baby 1D many had been hoping for back in 2008), finally been able to be the equal of Nikon again.

Problem for Nikon was that they were asleep at the wheel.

Instead of continuing the generous feature trickle-down that had kept so many Nikonians loyal through the dark days of before the D3 and D300s, Nikon has apparently stopped this wise strategy with the D600. Before, Nikon's $1800 model has always taken design cues from the top of the line D# line. Now, instead, the D600 essentially becomes a FF D7000, a clear devolution in capability that now forces anyone wanting a serious current Nikon to pay at least $3000 for a D800.

Long story short: Canon and Nikon have flipped design strategies in that Canon is now being generous with letting high-end features trickle down to lower-priced models while Nikon is apparently looking to protect its top-tier lines by crippling an otherwise great D600 with lousy, amateur controls.

Now that each company has shown its hand in the FF war, it will be interesting to see what they do in regards to high-end FF (think D300 s and 7D replacements).

My bet: the edge is now with Canon for this generation of cameras.

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