Impressive Innovation

I bought my last film SLR in 2002 – it was an F80, a mid grade Nikon body. I got the usual kit lenses with it, and over the years acquired a nice collection of prime autofocus lenses to go with them. It was, and still is a nice film system.

That same year Nikon came out with its first consumer grade DSLR – the D100. It was based on the F80 film model with digital innards. At that time I didn’t regret sticking with film though for a few reasons:

  • The digital unit was considerably more expensive.
  • The digital camera had “only” a 6 megapixel sensor – at the time film offered more resolution.
  • Although the digital unit offered a higher potential sensor ISO (1600) at that level the images started to look ugly.
  • The DX sensor in the D100 was smaller and hence my wide angle lenses didn’t work as well any more. A 24mm lens became effectively a 35mm.
  • The flash control for digital didn’t work as well as it did for film.
  • The sensor got dust bunnies and smudges appeared on the images.

This last issue was a real deal breaker for me.

Well I did get into digital eventually but never with an SLR. I had a Nikon Coolpix, a couple of Canons and a Fuji bridge camera, but these were all fixed lens machines with either an optical or electronic viewfinder or just an LCD screen on the back of the camera. Many times I longed for the functionality of a real through-the-lens viewfinder, or the speed of an SLR for kids photos. My last serious film photography with the F80 was in 2006. After that it was stored away and I made do with lesser equipment to shoot digital only.

Well recently I weakened and finally bought one of Nikons latest consumer DSLRs – and what a difference a decade has made.

  • The camera now has an impressive 24MP sensor producing images twice the length and width of the D100.
  • ISO goes up to 25600 (a 4 stop increase in light sensitivity.)
  • There’s still the problem of telephoto crop with my old lenses and their antiquated screw autofocus is absent on the new camera body. I either had to focus them manually or buy a much heavier and more expensive camera body that was compatible.
  • The new camera body is lightweight and strong and very compact. It is built of carbon fiber reinforced composite.
  • The new zoom lenses I got with the camera are amazing. They are specifically designed for the DX sensor, are compact and lightweight, and have VR image stabilization. I doubt I’ll ever need to take a tripod again, except for very long exposure photos. Dim light inside a church will be a snap.
    In fact it was cheaper to buy the more compact camera body and new lenses than it would have been to just get the more expensive heavy body that works with my old lenses. I can still use the old ones anyway if I want to focus manually – as the new DSLR meters and works great in any mode I wish to select. Just no screw AF.
  • Exposure control with the built-in flash is perfect.
  • There’s a special ultrasonic cleaner that shakes the dust bunnies off the sensor (Yay!)

All in all, there has been some impressive innovation going on in the DSLR space in the past 10 years. Light weight, improved lenses, better performance. I still like my pocket sized Canon S90 for travel but this Nikon will be a lot of fun to use around home. It’s the DSLR I was waiting for.

Published by Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald is a retired food scientist who lives in Almonte, ON.
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