I was thinking about getting a cheaper compact camera for times when my Nikon D700 was either too heavy to carry around or too expensive to risk losing. I was prompted by looking at some old raw image files that I had taken over the years with my Minolta A1, which despite numerous shortcomings, was actually a pretty good camera for that role. I’d probably still be using it today when I didn’t want to carry around heavier equipment except the macro functionality is broken in such a way that I can’t turn it off.
Unfortunately I was disappointed that almost none of the modern compacts will shoot in any kind of raw camera format. One solution was to see if I could find an older camera like the Minolta A1 on eBay, and I followed that up to the point where I was considering getting a replacement A1 for a pretty good price, and if it had been a film camera I probably would have.
The technology in digital cameras is moving so fast. My D700 is a huge jump in technology from my older DSLR, a Minolta Maxxum 7D, even though there was only about three years between their releases. Nikon’s flagship cameras used to be the single digit F series cameras, of which over their entire history there have only been six, Nikon has already had three flagship digital cameras in less than a decade. A used film camera, especially a top notch one like the Nikon F4 or Nikon FE is a pretty good investment, if you are going to use it. A used digital camera is likely to be so out of date after a year or two that you are better off getting a new one. That is kind of sad in a way, because I really love to buy old camera equipment. Almost all of my Nikon equipment was bought this way until I got the D700, and I always liked to wonder about the history of the equipment and the things those cameras and lenses had seen.
Investing in a low or midrange Nikon seemed to be the answer, as they end up being in the same price range as the high end compacts anyway, and quite a bit more functional for the type of photography that I like to do. The trouble with these cameras is that they have a much smaller sensor than a film frame or the D700, so while you can use many of the same lenses on the cheaper Nikon DSLRs, most of the lenses in the Nikkor line are over engineered for the DX format that they use, both in terms of weight and in price. There are of course a number of attractive DX only lenses, but up until now Nikon hadn’t released any prime (fixed focal length lenses) for the DX format.
People who are getting started in photography look at a super zoom like the Tamron 18-270mm as the ultimate in flexibility because you can frame your subject pretty much regardless of how far away it is, and that is a sort of flexibility. A couple of weeks ago I was photographing the Chinese New Year parade in Sydney for the fun of it. This year it was an evening twilight parade, so things started to get dark pretty quickly. It got to the point where my Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 was actually too slow (meaning the shutter times required were too long), and while the flexibility of the zoom was nice I knew that if I took any more pictures with it, the sensitivity of the sensor would have to be increased and I would wind up with more noisy photographs (noise in digital is sort of the equivalent of grain in film). Instead I switched to my manual focus Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 which is a very fast lens, and can be used in very dark situations. To me that is the ultimate kind of flexibility—to be able to take photographs regardless of the lighting conditions.
The other trouble with zoom lenses is that unless you pay a lot of money (and even then) your zoom lens is probably optically not very good. The kit lenses that come with cameras are usually the worst of the worst, which is why you find that most high end cameras don’t even come with a lens.
The reason my Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 is so fast is because it is a “normal” lens. It’s a special focal length which means that Nikon can inexpensively produce them at high quality. Most major camera manufacturers will produce a fast normal lens for a reasonable price, and they are an excellent investment for the quality and the flexibility. When I went looking for DX fixed focal length lenses, I didn’t find any made by Nikon. The only lens that sort of fit the bill was the Sigma 30mm F/1.4 (30mm is approximately analogous to a 45mm lens in 35mm/full frame format), and I was really excited about getting one of those because although it isn’t a Nikkor, Sigma is usually pretty decent. Unfortunately the reviews for that lens were pretty terrible! Desperate I started hoping that Nikon would release its own normal lens for DX format, but that seemed to be a pretty faint hope.
Then, last night I was reading reddit, and stumbled across a post from Nikon that they were just then, just now, just exactly when I was starting to give up hope, going to release a 35mm f/1.8 DX lens (with a built in AF motor no less so that it will work with the D60). It’s funny how these things go. With the release of this normal lens, the Nikon D60 is actually looking very attractive, despite its shortcomings, for those times that I would usually want to take my Minolta A1, and although it is a little bulkier, it is a lot more functional.
- I’d be happy to permanently turn it off, because it isn’t really an appropriate camera for serious macro work, but that doesn’t seem to be an option
- the F, F2, F3, F4, F5 and F6, and you can arguably not include the F6, since it was introduced well into the digital age and its target audience is completely different from the F(1)-F5
- and I have two of these sort of Tamron lenses, and they are pretty good for what they are
- which for a zoom lens is very fast
- 35mm in DX format is analogous to a 52mm lens in 35mm/full frame format