Consumer, Pro, DX, or FX?


As usual with any new camera introduction—especially Nikon DSLRs—the pile of questions I receive about “what should I get” suddenly grows to be pretty darned thick. In hopes of reducing that stack considerably, I hereby present Thom’s Short Cut to Deciding. 

Before I get to the shortcut, let me point out that Nikon has made this more difficult than it had to be. Nikon’s inability to ever mumble a Road Map, it’s short-term “buy FX” marketing, it’s long overdue followup to the D300s, it’s strange weaving of random cameras into a product lineup that was totally confused for awhile, all these things just made everyone’s head hurt when it came to making a decision in 2014 and 2015. 

What I’m seeing in all these questions is a remnant of all that head hurting. Guess what, folk? Nikon’s cleared things up (at least temporarily). Still, invariably almost every “what should I get” question also now has a “but I can get an FX camera for less than a DX camera” comment in it. 

And there-in lies the short cut. Nikon’s product line has gotten fairly rationalized again, at least above the lower end consumer DX models. 

  • Want a consumer body? Buy a D7200 if you’re into DX, a D750 if you’re into FX. 
  • Want a pro body? Buy a D500 if you’re into DX, a D810 or D5 if you’re into FX.

Wait, so are you into DX or FX? 

The implied answer with the D5/D500 pairing (and indeed with the D7200/D750 pairing) is that we’re back where we were with the D3/D300 pairing: a one stop difference between DX and FX with near-identical features sets. To get that one stop better image you get a larger camera, and you’ll likely get larger lenses due to the image circle difference. Compare the size of the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 DX to the 24-120mm f/4 FX, for example: you just lost .8” (17.5mm) and 9 ounces (230g) by going DX. And in the wider range of the lens, you got the stop back ;~). 

For the most part, DX nets you smaller, lighter, and less expensive. FX, meanwhile, nets you a stop in low light, and a better lens selection for primes and wide angles, but you’re going to pay more for those things. That’s especially true of the D5/D500 pairing: a US$4500 difference in cost just in the camera body. Sure, the D5 has a few things that the D500 doesn’t (Ethernet, for example), but in terms of most users for most uses, these bodies are pretty well matched in features and performance. 

As for “pro,” Nikon clearly rolls out new features and performance at the pro body level first. That’s clearly evident in the D5/D500 combo (which means the D810 is due for an update, too). New focus system, new shutters, new wireless flash control, new and better communications abilities, to name a few. “Consumer” doesn’t get that immediately and we’ll see the same old slow trickle down we’ve seen in the past. So maybe the D7300 when it appears will have some or all of those things, but you’ll have to wait.

Thus: if you’re a bleeding edge adopter, you need to choose a pro body. If you want things to settle out, you can wait for a consumer body.

So let’s go back to those pairings I noted. At present prices, buying consumer instead of pro saves you something near US$1000 (D7200 versus D500, D750 versus D810). Going DX instead of FX saves you something near US$1000 (D500 versus D810, D7200 versus D750).

I don’t know, but those thousand dollars add up fast and net you a new lens or a new computer or a vacation to go shoot with your new toy; adjust for your situation as appropriate. 

Nikon makes five very nice cameras now: D7200, D500, D750, D810, D5. Very nice cameras. I wouldn’t be ashamed to shoot with any of them, and as I’ve proved in the past year shooting with the D7200 in Africa and the Galapagos using non-exotic lenses, I don’t think I’m really at any particular disadvantage doing so. 

Thus, your choice boils down to this: consumer or pro build, DX or FX sensor size. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

Which is exactly what a lot of your are doing. The most common statement of that is “I can get an FX body (D750) for less than this new DX body (D500).” Uh, sure, but you’re buying a consumer body and all that implies. Do you need a pro feature and performance body? Then FX is more expensive than DX (US$1000 for a D810 over a D500, US$4500 for a D5 over a D500). 

So what’s happening here is the thing you should probably never do when buying something: “I’ve got X dollars to spend” being used as the primary decision criteria. First, buying a camera body isn’t the only expenditure you’re going to make. Depending upon what you have and what you need, you may be buying lenses, computers, hard drives, software, cards, accessories, you name it, just because you bought a new body. That makes the actual body cost far less an important factor. Plus, if you don’t have enough money to buy the body you need/want, don’t buy it now, just start saving your pennies.

Yes, I know about “bang for the buck.” Quite frankly, in the higher end of Nikon’s DSLR lineup, there’s a lot of bang for the buck in every model, though the D5 is stretching it a bit. Which bang is it you’re looking for? ;~)

Deal with your needs first. Then your desires. Then and only then your budget. 

Nikon has done what I asked them to do: rationalize their product lineup (at least in the enthusiast to pro DSLRs). Things make more sense now, and your decision making should be less convoluted than it was. 

Funny thing is, Nikon marketing doesn’t seem to know how to say all this. 

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