How Many Times Do You Switch?

It’s been fifteen years now since I began using DSLRs as my primary camera. During that time, Nikon has made 37 DSLR models (plus the Nikon 1’s, which probably should be considered). How many have you purchased, used, and why?

Early on, it was the D100 and D1x that were my “go to” cameras. That was followed by years of D200 and D2x use. So it probably doesn’t surprise you that this was followed by a number of years of D300, D3, and D3x use. Today, my primary cameras are D7100/D810. 

If you look through most of my files for the fifteen years, the only other camera that got a lot of use was the D70. Still, that’s 10 cameras in 15 years, and the dollar investment works out to about US$2,250 a year. Given that I was paying almost US$10 a roll for film and processing prior to going digital, and it means that we’re talking about the equivalent of about 225 rolls of film a year. So basically my money went to Nikon instead of Kodak and Fujifilm.

But as we get deeper and deeper into the digital era, I suspect my interest in switching to newer gear will go down. I probably wouldn’t have moved to the D810 at all if I didn’t have to review and write about it. Indeed, had I kept my D3s and D3x, I’d probably still be pretty darn happy with my images these days; the D810 is less of an improvement over the D800E than the D800E was over the D3x. 

It’s clear that most of us pros and many prosumer or enthusiast shooters are still switching bodies to the latest and greatest as they appear, but how compelling that is tends to be going down now with every generation. More often than not now, I’m finding that a redesigned or top lens is more important to “better results” than a few more megapixels and a bit more dynamic range. 

Case in point: the latest Nikkor 80-400mm. While it’s not perfect, it keeps impressing me as a very well rounded lens that holds up just fine on the 36mp sensor cameras. While it’s not in the same cost league as the ubiquitous 70-300mm, it’s also not in the same performance league. Simply put, it’s no contest: the 80-400mm wins in every category except price and size. Enough so that if you’re shooting with DSLR “X" and the 70-300mm, you might get more benefit by buying the 80-400mm than you would if you updated your camera body. Other lenses that clearly shine in this way are the Zeiss Otus and the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DX, but there are plenty of others to consider in this respect.

I see a lot of folk “chasing” after gains in equipment still. Certainly, gains can be made, but the question is whether those are the right gains to seek. Even in my own work I can see that any sloppy handling I do compromises those gains, so what I wrote years ago still applies. If anything, those words are even more important now.

We’re coming onto Photokina 2014, where lots of new gear will be announced, and the usual “I’m going to switch” kinds of conversations will reignite as some technical or performance spec catches photographers’ interests. 

Personally, I’m not going to switch. For over two years I’ve written that the D800 is the best all around DSLR available, and the D810 just pushes that forward into the indefinite future. The lenses I’ve got are fine (though I have to be honest: I have the best lenses currently available, not a lot of consumer mega/super stuff). I just verified those things with a month’s worth of shooting in Africa. So I’m taking a bit of a cautious view towards all the Photokina announcements we’re about to see (including a few already made). 

As I’ve been writing for some time now, camera makers haven’t actually really improved the experience of making photographs, they’ve just iterated the hell out of components in the cameras. My workflow is as insane today as it was 15 years ago, and my camera gear doesn’t help me fix that in any useful way. 

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