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Transcript of Pro DSLR 4c - Elsevier making some significant advances in DSLR technology that started their rise...

  • Choosing a pro quality DSLR This is not a camera review – but the ramblings of a tormented soul struggling with the questions of commitment and direction. For every soul there comes a time when a

    life changing decision has to be made. The moment has arrived where I must make this decision – the decision to buy a new DSLR.

    Fig 01. Digital Dawn – affordable professional quality DSLRs come of age

    I have an admission to make – when it comes to DSLR ownership I’ve been sitting on the fence for an awfully long time – well over a decade in fact. I first encountered a DSLR when I was working in London in 1993. It was the DCS100 – the first totally portable Digital Camera System (DCS) that had been released a couple of years earlier by Kodak in 1991. It had a 1.3-megapixel sensor mounted in a largely unmodified Nikon F3 SLR body that had a restricted viewfinder, no memory card (just a hard drive that used to get hot) and the image had to be downloaded via an umbilical cord to a separate digital storage unit (DSU) that had a 4 inch black and white monitor. The DSU was about the size and weight of a very large camera bag that could be mounted on your belt. Having said all that I was hooked on the very first image that I captured with this beast. I shot a press image with the camera and after glancing at the monitor I realized I had the image in the bag (so to speak) with the very first shot. It felt very, very strange walking away without shooting the other 35 frames and winding off the film. Although I had seen the future – it remained just that for many years. The camera was a bit of a Frakenstein’s monster (Kodak digital technology bolted into a Nikon film camera), cost the same as a new family saloon car (well over AUD $30,000) and the low pixel count made it easy not to invest any personal money into digital capture at that point in time.

  • Images courtesy of John Henshall -

    Fig 02. A new breed for a new millennium

    Independence day Six years later in 1999 Nikon announced its digital independence day (independence from Kodak’s branding) with the launch of its landmark camera the D1. Looking at the spec sheet of this camera in 2006 (with just 2.7-megapixels) it is hard to see what all the fuss was about. It was however the first digital camera that did not look or feel like a ‘bitsa’ (bits of this and bits of that) using an all- new camera design rather than the Nikon F4 or F5 film body. The price of the Kodak/Nikon hybrids had been enough to frighten many pro-photographers but the Nikon D1 came in at under 10,000 (US$5500) and most pro-photographers now started to take notice. The writing was most definitely on the wall (the end is nigh – the digital dawn is upon us). A few pro-photographers took the plunge but unless you were shooting for newspapers, catalogues or real estate magazines the pixel count was still a major issue. My personal wallet stayed firmly closed. The year 2000 (a new millennium) however saw the capabilities of the D1expanded just 8 months after its original release. The D1x now sported a sensor capable of recording nearly 6-megapixels and many photographers who could do their maths saw the significance of the D1x to their own workflow. Single page illustrations in magazines were now an affordable reality for the pro- photographer. The hardware was still significantly more expensive than the film equivalent but

  • when the savings on film was factored into the equation the DSLR made economic sense for many photographers. The year 2000 also saw Canon realize their independence from Kodak with the release of their built-from-the-ground-up 3-megapixel D30 using a CMOS sensor instead of the CCD technology favoured by Nikon. The most notable feature about this camera was not its megapixel count, or its quality (which was pretty impressive) but its comparatively low price (US$2800 – half that of the D1x) and its user-friendly interface – a sign of things to come. Nikon and Canon - the traditional suppliers of 35mm SLRs to pro-photographers, it seemed, were set to do battle in the digital arena, just as they had in the film arena that preceded it.

    Fig 03. The awe-inspiring EOS D1 released in 2002 left Nikon’s DSLR line-up wanting. The late release of Nikon’s

    D2x and D70 (four years after the D1x) allowed Canon to become the dominant name in the DSLR market.

    The waiting game With regular access to a D1x at RMIT University (the University where I teach) my Nikon F90 film camera started to gather dust but I decided to wait before investing in my own Nikon DSLR. I was starting to get fussy. I wanted a little bit more than the Nikon D1x was offering (user-friendly interface and pixels) for a little bit less (personal cash). Little did I realize that the D2x would be four years in the making. Whilst patiently waiting for the right Nikon DSLR (Nikon ownership being dictated by the fact that I owned four Nikon lenses and a Nikon speedlight) Canon were making some significant advances in DSLR technology that started their rise to market supremacy. In 2001 the incredibly fast EOS 1D outgunned Nikon’s D1H (more pixels and faster). In 2002 they released the all-conquering EOS 1Ds that set the quality benchmark that all other DSLR manufacturers could only aspire to. Professional Nikon owners started to get agitated. In 2002 Nikon released its 6-megapixel D100 to compete with Canon’s D60 (an upgraded D30). For many pros the D100 was just less quality for less money and the Nikon pro wallets remained closed. Canon rubbed salt into Nikon owners’ wounds when they whole-heartedly embraced the ‘more for less’ concept with the release of its landmark camera the EOS 10D in 2003 (twice the quality for half the money). Canon was now selling a semi-pro camera for a quarter of the price of the D1x. Where was the D2x? The hopes of many Nikon owners were momentarily lifted with the release of Kodak’s ill-fated 14n (a full-frame CMOS sensor with more pixels than a 1Ds and a lower price tag). Although stealing a little of the limelight from the Canon 1Ds in 2002, professionals soon realized that the Kodak full-frame CMOS sensor was no match for Canon’s CMOS technology. Nikon pro’s would have to jump ship* or wait for Nikon’s own successor to the D1x. * The decision for a professional to jump ship is usually complicated by their considerable

    investment in pro-quality lenses. The price of the body is often the smallest factor in the total


  • Nikon revises it aging line-up After the 14n a lot of Nikon owning professionals now anticipated a full-frame sensor as the only logical step forward from the reduced frame sensor found in the D1x. For Nikon owners the waiting game continued - for longer than any anticipated. 2004 saw Nikon belatedly release the DSLR cameras in both the amateur and professional range to match those found in the Canon line-up (after much gnashing of teeth). Although the Nikon D2x is now one of the most impressive DSLRs currently available, for many Nikon owning professionals it was not the camera they had been waiting for (CMOS sensor but not full frame). For many pro-photographers the release of the D2s signalled that Nikon had turned its back on the concept and development of a full-frame sensor. The message was clear – reinvest in Nikon lenses designed for the reduced frame sensor or desert Nikon for Canon. For disgruntled Nikon owners Canon made the concept of full-frame even more attractive in 2005 with the release of the EOS 5D. Some Nikon owners (namely me) were starting to hurt.

    Canon - Flying the flag for the full-frame sensor The only problem about aspiring to a Canon EOS1Ds Mark 11 (upgraded from 11-megapixels to 16.6-megapixels in 2004) is its price (AUD$13,999). The camera is in a league of its own – comparable to no other DSLR after the demise of the Kodak 14n, and so is priced accordingly. The only cameras that a pro-photographer could remotely compare this technological masterpiece to, in terms of quality of image, are medium format cameras (if compared to a digital medium format camera the EOS 1Ds looks decidedly like a bargain). So why release the 5D when Nikon was showing no interest in this format of sensor and Canon’s own consumer DSLRs such as the EOS 20D and 350D were selling like hotcakes? The only problem with being in a league of one is how do you breed brand loyalty and satisfaction if the lenses the customer has purchased for their first Canon DSLR will travel to the EOS ID but not the EOS 1Ds – the studio photographer’s choice? Changing all of your lenses would have to hurt as much as it does for a Nikon owner who has to jump ship to Canon, except the anger that Canon owners would feel would be directed at Canon instead of Nikon. It is also worth bearing in mind that the impressive Nikon D2x is significantly cheaper than the EOS 1Ds, and a Canon 20D owner would have nothing to lose by jumping ship to Nikon, given that they wouldn’t be able to take their existing lenses to the Canon EOS 1Ds or the Nikon D2x.

    Fig 04. The 15 year waiting game is over - affordable pro DSLRs from Canon and Nikon

    Enter the 5D, a lightweight low-cost DSLR alternative for those who aspire to the EOS 1Ds rather than the EOS 1D, but can’t yet justify the capital investment. The 5D signifies Canon’s

  • commitment to the full-frame sensor and allows the aspiring professional a body on which to build their lens collection. And just when you thought that Nikon’s days were numbered as a pro gear manufacturer – enter the Nikon D200 - the first ‘timely’