I read the same bubbly reviews in the style that I recently decried. I watched poorly done videos of other peoples' renditions of creative spec sheet reading. I looked in my check register, trying to see where the cash might come from to pay for my obsessive compulsive need for the latest and greatest in camera gear. And then I hit the wall...
It dawned on me that I've been engaged in the new gear dance for well over a decade now and have precious little to show for it. We had a good time deducting the wretched excess from our taxes and we had many a good discussion about the merits of various new models while saluting photography with frosty and salty margaritas but it's hard not to feel
a bit used by the marketing mavens who help craft our serial addiction.
Where is this going? I was in the neighborhood so I thought I'd drop by my friendly neighborhood camera store and see what might be new and different. It was a quiet afternoon in the showroom at Precision Camera and as I looked at the used equipment cases I was reminded that I had never sold off the full collection of Nikon lenses. I still had a 50mm f1.4, a 55mm macro, a 105mm f2.5 and a few other older gems floating around.
In a moment of loose thinking I started looking at the used Nikon bodies, my facile brain thinking up rationales for getting an old "beater" Nikon body for those days steeped in rosy nostalgia when I might like to mount up the 105mm and pretend to be a New York fashion photographer from the 1980's. I have a small collection of older, F series cameras but my brain was crafting an argument about the need for just one old, vintage digital body to fool around with.
I looked at used D610s, D700s and even a very, very crusty D3 but then my eyes fell on an incredibly mint-like camera that I had owned once upon a time --- over a decade ago. A camera that I had used to do a tremendous amount of work with. A camera that I had to buy in a rush because the camera I had been using developed a fatal flaw and I was in the middle of a demanding but highly lucrative job.
In 2007 the Nikon D2Xs cost $5500 (or somewhere in that ballpark). I sent off my damaged camera for repair and showed up to continue shooting the next morning with the new camera. In truth, the Nikon D2Xs was NOT the most expensive camera I ever bought brand new. That dubious honor fell to the Kodak DCS-760 which was a few thousand more. But it was one of the few times that I had to buy a camera under duress. The shoot had to continue. The client had to be served.
When I looked at the D2Xs in the case yesterday I was reminded of all the attributes I came to admire and respect in the old camera. It was more or less bulletproof. It was the highest resolution Nikon available at the time. It was weather resistant. It was part of the first generation of pro cameras to make the switch from heavy and lower capacity NiMh batteries to our current, miraculous Li-on batteries. It had a great finder. It captured files in 16 bit and kept them in 16 bit analog form until late in the processing stage. It had great color. I could go on.
When I examined the camera in the case yesterday it looked like someone had just pulled it out of the box for the first time and put it onto the shelf. And then I saw the price tag. It was marked at $275. Roughly 1/20th of what I'd paid for one --- in the day. I was hooked and walked out the door yesterday with the camera in my hands and no idea why I'd bought it; other than nostalgia and a desire to make sure those yeoman-like lenses in the cabinet back home were in no danger of being orphaned.
So, what did I get for my $275 expenditure? I think that remains to be seen. If there is a camera "spectrum" then this camera sites near the opposite end from my GH5's. It's enormous, bulky and has almost half the resolution of my current cameras. I know from experience that it's no great shakes when used at ISOs over 400. And I can tell you that the total package is not audibly subtle in actual use....
On the other hand the 12 megapixels it does have are very well implemented. I remember shooting images that my art director friends blew up to mural size (6x9 feet) for the Austin Chamber of Commerce and I remember that we all went "ooooh" and "ahhhh" when we saw the work printed. The camera is fast to operate, has a healthy buffer and makes uncompressed raw images that (when shot at ISO 100-200) punch well above their size. In fact, re-reading the press of the time it was generally acknowledged that files from the D2XS's APS-C sensor were more convincing than those from its closest rival, the full frame, 16 megapixel Canon 1DSmk2.
I've charged the battery, mounted the 105mm f2.5 and cued up the older 85mm f1.8 ai lens for when I figure out that the 105 is just too long for my portrait style; given the cropped sensor. It's on a tripod in the studio right now awaiting a portrait session with a favorite model.
During a bit of down time this afternoon I looked through the files and tossed a few DVDs into the computer and took another look at the files that I'd been able to get out of the same model camera back in 2007 and 2008. They looked really, really good. Meaty tonality and really accurate color. I grabbed a couple of my favorite photos from each folder and re-processed the raw files through Adobe Camera Raw (the latest iteration) and was pleased to see that newer and more powerful software was able to pull out a lot more from the files that Nikon Capture and Bibble had given me a decade ago. It made this fossil of a camera seem to spark up.
Now I am not so convinced that, other than high ISO performance, the progress in cameras has been as stunning and climactic as we may have been collectively led to believe. I'll start shooting some portraits with this ancient camera and let you know what I think. It seems like saving all those big CF cards from an earlier time wasn't such a mistake after all.
$275. I've had more expensive dinners with my spouse. Paid a lot more than that for crappy point and shoot cameras. Spent that much last month on a big V90 SD card. Etc. Etc.
If you want to scratch a camera itch maybe your next assignment could be to go retro and see just what can be accomplished by a camera from a previous decade, placed in the hands of skilled user. The process might just be a blast. That's my challenge to VSL readers today.
It's amazing to look at what people are getting rid of. Let's see if the D2XS performance matches my memory of it as a good studio camera. If not, what have I really lost?