Monday, 26 June 2017

Sometimes simple is better.

Recently I ended my love affair with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII, swapping it for the Nikon D7100. I was pining for a DSLR again, and although I now do miss the mirrorless experience (more specifically the evf), I still think it was the right move to make. Just not with the D7100. Let me explain…

Many reviewers still claim that the Nikon D7100 (D7200) is the best DSLR you can buy (in terms of features for the price), and I can’t say that I disagree. It’s got everything but the kitchen sink thrown into a very well made, solid, yet compact(ish) camera. Sure, the buffer could be better. But that’s about where the complaining ends. And I expected to love using it, after enjoying cameras like the D200 and D300 which share a very similar design aesthetic. Trouble is, I didn’t enjoy using it – at all. In fact, I found it confusing and difficult to use. And this is from someone coming from the menu nightmare on the Olympus!

I don’t know what it is – I really don’t. But I just couldn’t get my head around navigation of the D7100. Every time I used it, I would find myself fumbling to access or change the most basic of settings. This came to a head recently when I went to take some photos of my daughter and her friends before their senior ball. It was tricky lighting, I’ll admit – inside, at night, with only the camera’s pop-up flash, and everyone anxious to get going to the ball. So not the easiest of shoots. But even so, it’s something that I should have handled without breaking a sweat.

Except I didn’t handle it – at all. Every shot I took looked grossly over-exposed on the back of the camera, while I frantically tried to dial back the exposure compensation on both the camera and the flash. Nothing seemed to be working, and so I forged on regardless, thinking that I could pull ‘something’ decent out later in post since I was shooting RAW. I was wrong. They are all practically useless. The first few are ok, but it goes down-hill swiftly from there.

I went home after this abysmal fiasco and had to do it all over again with my son who was also going to the ball. Perfect exposures – every time!? I still have no idea how or why it went so terribly wrong at one moment, and so easy the next. Just no idea. And that freaks me out. And the D7100 freaks me out because of it. So I have sold it. And it was probably the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make selling a camera kit. The D7100 and I did not become friends.

In the time-honoured tradition of breaking up, I’d just like to clarify that it’s not you (D7100), it’s me. I’m the one with the problem. I’m sure you will go on to have a beautiful relationship with someone who will look after you and know how to treat you right. I wish you nothing but the best, and I’m sure you’ll both be very happy together.

Me? Well, rather callously, I’ve already moved on. And, not wanting to flog this break-up analogy to death (but I’m going to anyway), I’ve gone back to an old flame. They say the first love is always the best. My first love was with Canon. I already ‘own’ a well-used Canon 50D with 10-22mm lens (on permanent loan from a friend who has gone full-frame), and I have managed to pick up a really mint 40D body for a steal on-line ($180NZ). It’s probably the third time I’ve owned this camera (as well as the 20D and 30D), and that should tell you something.

I guess many will read this and see the move from a 24MP Nikon D7100 to a 10MP Canon 40D as a HUGE step backwards. And maybe it is? But I’ve said this in my blogs often enough – and I’ll quite happily say it again – it’s NOT about megapixels! And, depending on the type of shooting you do, it’s also NOT about high ISO noise performance either! I’ve always said that, for me, the sweet spot with megapixels is about 10 to 12. Plenty enough for a crisp A3 print. I hardly ever crop in to my images. Coming from the film days, I have had the mantra of ‘compose in-camera’ firmly ingrained in my psyche. I don’t need (or want) 24MP. To be honest, all those megapixels make me nervous (yeah, I know – weird).

The Canon 40D with Grip. My 'Goldilocks' DSLR
The 40D (and 50D) is ‘my’ sweet-spot for a DSLR. The Goldilocks of cameras if you will. Not too big and not too small. Just right. As well as having 10MP, the 40D; shoots at 6.5fps with a decent buffer (I like to shoot sports occasionally), has a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body (great for landscape work), takes CF cards (I still prefer them over the flimsier SD cards), has excellent battery life (a relief coming from mirrorless), has live-view with exposure simulation, grid lines and a histogram readout (surprisingly better than the D7100 implementation), exceptional ergonomics (Canon’s control wheel and joystick are ingenious), and no video modes to get in the way (I ain’t a video guy). Everything I need, and nothing I don’t.

So no, I don’t see it as a step backwards at all. I see it as a positive affirmation of the kind of gear I like to use, to create the kind of images I like to make. Also, the great news for me is that the ‘older’ gear is always cheaper – leaving more money for what really matters – lenses.

If you really want to see a distinct improvement in your photos, then spend more money on glass and less on your camera body. Unfortunately, this equation has been flipped on its head over the last decade with the proliferation of cheap, plastic, do-it-all, slow, low-quality zoom lenses. Yes, they look pretty, and yes, they are sharp enough. But they have computer-designed everything to within an inch of its life, resulting in bland ‘good enough’ image quality. The ‘you get what you pay for’ advice is never truer than with camera lenses. I’ll take a nice piece of glass on a 40D over a cheap plastic zoom on a 1Dx any day of the week – and so should you.

As already mentioned, I have the use of a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM that will work perfectly for landscapes. Now the hunt is on for a good mid-range lens to compliment the 10-22 (something like a 24-105mm f4L), a longer telephoto (maybe the 70-200mm f4L), and a Canon Speedlite (the 430 EX II) to make the kit complete. I think I’d like to buy EF (rather than EF-S) lenses to allow a future upgrade path to full-frame (remember the EF-S 10-22 is just on-loan), as well as for complete compatibility with my Canon EOS 1 film camera (which won’t take EF-S lenses). Not sure my budget will stretch to all of the above, but I’ll give it a good go.


  1. great to see you writing again Wayne, I feel your pain re Nikon's current menu systems and settings, just way to confusing..
    I must admit i have a hankering for a DSLR.. but i am thinking older again, maybe a Sony A900 or A850 if i can find one

  2. Hi Hayden. As per usual I like your thinking... An A900 or 850 would be amazing. Briefly toyed with the ide of going that way myself. Have a very good friend here on the coast who shoots Sony A series professionally. Amazing cameras. And the old Minolta glass is to die for - and so cheap!


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