What I See Versus What I Read

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All of the images in this post were shot with the Nikon D7000 and 70-200 f/2.8, as I try to decide whether to keep the DX camera.

Thom Hogan, whom I trust completely, asks, “Are you FX or DX?” It’s a tough question, and I suspect many Nikon shooters end up with both sensor sizes (if not more). I’ve owned several great DX Nikons: D70, D200, D300, and, currently, D7000. I bought my first FX camera last December; a Nikon D610.

Thom and others point out that the superb image quality of the DX cameras, which feature a smaller sensor than their FX counterparts, should be enough for most users. I’ve certainly been happy with mine. At least, until I got the FX camera. I keep reading that there is not much difference anymore, but my images tell a different story.

This is a small portion of the D7000's 16 megapixel frame. Perhaps the D7100's 24 megapixels would provide the zip I think this images lacks.

This is a small portion of the D7000’s 16 megapixel frame. Perhaps the DX D7100’s 24 megapixels would provide the zip I think this images lacks, but an FX camera might provide an overall look more to my tastes.

Regular readers might recall that I’ve been ambivalent about the D7000 since I got it (two, actually). While I was pleased with the sensor, I was disappointed with the focus system. I assumed my sloppy technique or poor choice of settings caused the frequent mis-focus issues. I may also harbor unreasonable expectations of the technology. It’s an autofocus system, not magic.

Most of my bird-in-flight attempts were not this sharp.

Most of my bird-in-flight attempts were not this sharp. There are far better moments from this sequence, with exquisite twists and curves of body and wing, but they are out of focus.

The D610 seems to focus better than the D7000, although i believe they have the same system. But the images! Oh, the images! I cannot put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the depth of field or colors or tonal gradations or resolution, but in the past ten months the D610 has won my heart by allowing me to produce photographs that look right to me. I lose “reach” when I choose the D610, because the smaller sensor of the D7000 makes my lenses appear to be 1.5x longer. That’s no small thing when trying to photograph birds in flight. But it doesn’t really help if I fill the frame with a blurry image.

If I decide to go FX exclusively, I might have to invest in some longer lenses.

If I decide to go FX exclusively, I might have to invest in some longer lenses.

There should not be much difference between DX and FX images, all else equal. Of course, “all else” is rarely equal, and being a lazy, impatient, disorganized photographer, I’m not going to set up careful tests to verify my experience. Instead, I’m shooting a lot with both bodies under normal, day-to-day scenarios to see if it’s time to dump the D7000 and go all FX, all the time.

I've been very happy with the the image quality of the D7000 for three years.

I’ve been very happy with the the image quality of the D7000 for three years. 

For the images in this post, I went to Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve with the D7000 and 70-200 f/2.8 lens. No teleconverter. Just a great camera body and a great lens. I don’t know if it’s a placebo/self-fulfilling-prophacy effect or what, but the resulting images seem flat and lifeless, compared to what I’ve been getting from the D610. Moreover, the keeper rate was quite low because of focus issues. Every day at Bolsa Chica is a good day, regardless of photography, but I still felt disappointed. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll go back with the D610 to make some comparison images.

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Am I DX or FX? Based on what I read, I’ve tried to be both, using FX for studio/portrait work and DX for wildlife/travel. But based on what I see in my own images, I think I’m FX all the way.  What I read incites me to think, but what I see incites me to feel, and when it comes to making images, I think feelings count a little more.

I know that I can make photos I like with either camera. The question nagging me is whether one of the bodies is holding me back in some way.

I’ve enjoyed being a lazy, disorganized, impatient photographer, but now I want to make some truly great images. I know that I can make photos I like with either camera. The question nagging me is whether one of the bodies is holding me back in some way. 

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Filed under Camera Gear, Nature Photography

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