Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I really could have used that Nikon D400

More and more, I keep thinking that the D400 would have solved my problems.

While the D300 was amazing for 2007 and the D300s was a good successor, I find myself wanting a bit more.  I considered buying a D7100 for more than a few moments, but the lack of a generous frame buffer stopped me.  I really don't want the whole operation to stop while I wait for the photos to be written to cards.

The D600 is also not a good substitute, as it's more of a D7000 than the D7100 is, what with the older auto focus module, etc.

That D400 with the guts of the D300s and a slightly enhanced image sensor would have been great.  12 (clean) MP aren't bad at all, but 16 or 18 MP would have put its sensor more eye-to-eye with the Canon 7D.

Why am I thinking about all of this now, again?  The rumored Olympus E-M1, a Four-Thirds substitute body.  If it's real, as they've shown it, it's not good.  It's undersized, a cobbled-together assemblage of good intentions that will work for those Four-Thirds users who have already jumped ship to micro Four-Thirds.  There may be other, casual Four-Thirds users, but I doubt it.  It's very much an all-or-nothing type of system.  ( hint "E- series" on a teaser for the announcement coming soon.  It could be a fake, but it would make more sense just to put everything into an already available body and make the combination up to date.

I photograph sports--cross country, track, basketball, wrestling, swimming, lacrosse, and more.  I've been using the Panasonic GH3 to handle some of those, and it sort of works but there are multiple problems.  Even the most expensive micro Four-Thirds zoom lenses aren't good--they're certainly not excellent, which is something the Olympus ZD lenses are.  Switching dSLR brands will cause me to pay 1.5 to 2.0 times the cost to find almost equivalent lenses, and I'll have to buy more to cover my current range.  The electronic viewfinder of today isn't very good.  Panasonic's may not be great, but I don't see any of them with 16 times the resolution, so it looks like real life through an optical viewfinder.  Guessing at focus, and manual focus of fast sports is often necessary, is not likely to be acceptable.  Don't get that?  Try capturing Usain Bolt (not even on one of his good days) with a mirror-less camera.  You may get 1 or 2 decent photos.

When Olympus' E-P2 was arriving, I quipped that the E-P14 would be the first complete mirror-less camera from Olympus.  The E-P5 has come a long way toward shutting my mouth but the viewfinder and continuous focus are less than ideal for a dSLR user.

So, that D400 may never arrive, but I might have to jump ship--back to the future?  The Nikon D300 is still a good camera body and the price is extremely reasonable.  The D300s provides video and some other minor enhancements which I have handled elsewhere, so spending extra money doesn't seem reasonable.

Of course, the D300 has 12.3 MP output.  It's not greater than my Olympus E-5, except that the photos may be a bit cleaner in low light because of the lower density of pixels on the sensor.

Jumping ship, of course, is a bigger deal in the lenses than the camera bodies, unless you're still only working with that kit zoom.  I find that buying a 70-200mm f/2.8 and adding lenses around it is cost-prohibitive.  Certainly the new 24-85mm f/3.5-5.6 135 format normal zoom is reasonable at US$599 (I believe!) for good, but slow glass with an image stabilizer.  Right now, I have two normal zooms that run (equivalent of 135 format) 28-70mm f/2.0 and 28-108mm f/2.8-3.5, both image stabilized because of the image stabilization built into the body.

Would I spend more to take a big leap in image quality, even at the expense of the future?  I'm not sure.  That D300 still looks good and if not that, then the D700 can probably be had still.  Bigger isn't always better but giving peace of mind a chance might be.

I've been attempting sports with the Panasonic GH3.  It isn't bad and sometime, it's even good.  The electronic viewfinder gets in my way and for manual focus, the resolution just isn't there.  I tried it at last Saturday's cross country meet and I was fine with my older Olympus E-5.  Even if the sensor isn't so good in low light situations, that's rarely a problem for cross country running in the sunshine, or even in the rain.  However, a D400 might have taken away any doubts about shooting sports because it would be better in low light than the E-5 and with contrast detection auto focus, could have followed the runners more easily.  Of course, switching to the latest Olympus ZD 50-200mm with the SWD (Supersonic Wave Drive--like any other ultrasonic focusing motor), might have allowed the auto focus to work quite well.

However, going the Nikon route might be desirable, since Olympus seem to be packing up their last Four-Thirds camera body.  We'll see what happens next Monday/Tuesday after the announcements.

Update 2013.10.08: Olympus' E-M1 isn't a dSLR but it focuses the dSLR lenses that the company makes.  Pentax/Ricoh introduced their new APS-C sized flagship, the K-3, and it looks everything that the D400 should have been, had it been made at all.

Update 2013.11.24: Could a D7200 fix the buffer issue and solve the problem?  Surely, they'll find flash memory inexpensive enough to increase the buffer without changing anything else.  Certainly going from D600 to D610 they didn't change much and improved the camera quite a lot.

Update 2015.04.14: The D7200 is finally available in stores, and it fixes a lot about the D7100.  It's still not the D400 but it should impress a lot of people.  They should have introduced it halfway through 2014, but they didn't.  Oh, well.  Given that Canon revised the 7D, at least, there are two refreshed dSLR camera bodies in the category.  Now, if Ricoh Pentax could fix their firmware weirdness, there would be three good APS-C sized sensors in dSLRs bodies.

Update 2015.08.15: The D7200 is available in my bag now, for about one month.  The buffer fix is good, especially using 12-bit raw files.  The Expeed 4-class processor and the updated sensor seem to have given it great power.  I'm still working to learn it but I've only got a few good photos with it.  I'm waiting for firmware updates to fix a lot of ridiculous little problems, such as its choosing ISO 25,600 even in good light.

It will be a good replacement for the D300, finally, even if the build isn't quite as amazing.  I can still take out my Olympus E-5 (or E-1), if I want something that will work in the worst situations.

Update 2015.12.13: The D7200 sits a lot.You'd think that the body and the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 would be great companions, but they're too slow and not good enough in lower light conditions.  How good is the image quality of a photo the camera refuses to take?

 I like it, but it seems to work against me rather than working for me.

Update 2016.01.06: The D500 has been announced and while it looks good, it's not looking great for video, even though it can handle 4K video at some level.  The Panasonic GH4 is better for video overall.  For stills, of course, the D500 image quality is much better than the GH4 or any other micro Four-Thirds body, but is it enough?

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