Just kicking back and enjoying the D700 and a little handful of cheap lenses.

As you may remember I picked up a Nikon D700 a couple weeks ago with the intention of seeing whether or not I was missing something distinct or magical from the old days. Was there something in the older cameras that was basically right but then got ameliorated by our mindless lust for resolution? I've had lots of other stuff on my mind but I've been systematically mixing the D700 and some vintage Nikon lenses into my work mix (golf pro last week, studio portrait of doctor this week) and today I had time to step away from work, and family administration, and just go for a walk with the camera and one lens. The lens I chose today was the 85mm f1.8 AF-D lens. It's a lens many of us have owned, either in the digital age or in the days of autofocus film Nikons, and it has a solid reputation as being fairly good at the wider apertures and very good at f5.6 and beyond. It's one of the noisy autofocusing lenses that uses a little screwdriver drive cam to move the lens elements. Being an older prime it has no image stabilization.

In contrast to the mirrorless cameras and lenses I normally use the D700 feels at least twice as heavy and the lens is heavier that the Sony counterpart as well. It always takes me a while to dial in my subconscious understanding that the image in the finder is NOT what the final image will look like once it's been through the exposure and digital processing chain so chimping is a more frequent practice in actual use, as is making iterative exposure and color adjustments. 

All in all the camera and lens are well balanced and fairly compact (especially compared to the D2XS) and they didn't constitute any real burden over the course of a two hour walk through an urban landscape. 

I'm always surprised when I get back home from a walk with a vintage camera. I think I am expecting a much more primitive or less complex file with which to work. But lately, with either the D700 or the D2XS, I am surprised at just how modern, detailed and rich the files I'm getting seem to look. I did a color check with a vector scope on the Atomos monitor and in the "neutral" profile setting the colors were remarkably accurate. Much more so than similar test shots done on a much newer Sony A7Rii. Kind of amazed that two cameras that are each over ten years old nailed the basic color science to a more accurate degree than a much more recent generation competitor. Almost makes me want to try the same test with a Canon 5D mk2.....

I shot mostly at f3.5 and was surprised to see again just how shallow depth of field is for that particular optic when combined with a full frame sensor. 

How well have I filled out my (totally) vintage Nikon system? Well, I always want two bodies so I have a useful back-up that takes the same lenses, so I have the D700 and the D2XS. I like the color and file depth (richness) out of both of them. They both need more sharpening than the current cameras I am used to but once post processed from RAW they look very competitive if I stay in the native file sizes. I'm guessing the need for more sharpening comes from the use of stronger anti-aliasing filters that were required because of the lower pixel resolution and the danger of moire.

Here are the lenses I have sourced to date (all locally, from Precision Camera): the 24mm f2.8 AF-d, the 28mm f2.8 ais (manual focus), the ancient 35-70mm f3.5 ai lens, the 55mm f2.8 ais micro lens, the 85mm f1.8 AF-d lens, the 105mm f2.5 ais lens and finally, the 70-210mm f4.0-5.6 AF zoom lens (which I have owned before and found to be quite good; it's a push pull design with auto-focusing). 

Were I just starting out I believe I could handle most photo oriented jobs with just this small assemblage of gear. While none of it is "stellar" (with perhaps the exception of the 105mm) it's all very workable and all the bodies and lenses deliver acceptable results. No one will write home to glorify the high ISO performance of the D2XS but isn't that why the photo gods invented flash?

Will this assemblage morph and grow to replace the Panasonic GH5s and assorted lenses? Not likely. The Panasonic collection is too insanely good at video to even think of jettisoning. And it does a better job in most respects for still imaging than either of the ancient Nikons. If I were to consider a switch I'd have to give the D850 a workout, only for its potentially good 4K video performance. But then I'd be back down the rabbit hole spending more on individual lenses than I've spent so far on my entire collection of old, used stuff. Total system expenditure so far for the vintage Nikon collection is less than $1800. The flip side of that reality is that either camera could give up the ghost at any moment and would cost more to revive than to replace.... The 55mm micro already is showing intermittent signs of sticky aperture blades; a known flaw.

Whether or not owning the aging Nikon gear is sensible is something I'll leave to each of you. I love the nostalgia of it and the surety of it when I use it within its performance envelope. They are not, in this day and age, anywhere near the ultimate performers but then again they are not nearly as far behind as I would have imagined before going back and re-testing. See the images for more subjective evaluation.

If I were starting out, young and broke, today I think a couple of D700s or Canon 5Dmk2s and a handful of older lenses would be the best use of limited funds for me. And a useful introduction into the basic work life of most photography. It's an interesting option versus newer and more consumer oriented base model cameras, and certainly more cost effective than some of the mirrorless options out on the market. Sure, there's no video and no EVF but $$$ for $$$ this old stuff is as basic as a good hammer. It's usable and gets the job done. You can always ask for more, the question is whether you really need it or just want it. 

Funny, Austin is an MSA (metropolitan survey area) with nearly 2 million people and yet there was almost no one on the streets of downtown today. I guess they were all hunkered down in coffee shops, fearful of the rain and the chilly 70 degree temperatures....

The last remnants of "old" Austin. A window A/C unit at the #1 Fire Station. 


Alex said...

When using my OMD EM-5 MK1, I always wonder how dead cheap I got it and how good it is. Only 10.000 klicks and I bought it for € 230,-. The 60mm Macro was way more expensive, but that´s where my money goes in photography.

MO said...

Hi kirk

Nice to have You writing again!

The new tech in the cheaper bodies for video, and some older high end cameras for stills gives a semi professional amazing bang for for the buck. And i can use the same lenses on all bodies even across brands now across canon and panasonic. I use 5d II and 1D III for stills and panasonic gx85(metabones speedbooster xl), fz1000 and a canon sl2 for video.

The last 4 years i have never but money into the gear but only sold high end cameras i had and bought cheaper solutions. but always expanding my possibilities and the quality of the outcome even though i kept the price of the gear the same.

The only downside is the burden of mixing so many different bodies to get the better result. for me though that's not a problem. I find it more easy to have a camera set up for one thing. A camera set up to do to many things takes away the intuitive a bit away from my shooting. Personally i come to like a tool that does one thing really well and have more tools to choose from. I know i'm moving against the current here. But think about it in a workflow point of view. A multitool does not always make the job more easy. Just ask a carpenter if he would like at combined hammer, saw and screwdriver?

My fiddling with gear needs gets meet to this way as a bonus :)

My take

Love the rendering of the files in this post by the way :)


Jim Metzger said...

Funny you mention a hammer. I was at a Nikon / National Geographic seminar not to long after the D2X was introduced. An attendee was taken aback at the $5000 cost of the camera and asked the Nikon rep how they could justify such a "ridiculous" price. The rep picked up the camera by the telephoto lens and started whacking the body on the table like a hammer. He said "if you practice photojournalism or war reportage, the camera was a cheap investment".

By the way, WELCOME BACK!


Dave Jenkins said...

"Total system expenditure so far for the vintage Nikon collection is less than $1800.. .Whether or not owning the aging Nikon gear is sensible is something I'll leave to each of you. I love the nostalgia of it. . ."

Even a working professional photographer is allowed to have a hobby kit.

ODL Designs said...

I don't know it to be true, but I often wonder if the push for greater sensitivity at higher ISOs makes the colour signal weaker.

There are lots of photographers who swear by CCD sensors, and each brand has people that swear that earlier cameras have better colour than older ones.

Who knows, might just be nostalgia, which colours everything more than a faded picture :)

Don Karner said...

Looks to me like that 85 1.8 is quite a performer. Thanks for sharing these images.

crsantin said...

I've gathered quite a collection of cheap but good Nikon lenses. I have a 28mm 2.8, 35mm 2.8, 50mm 1.8, 100mm 2.8, 135mm 3.5, 70-210mm f4, 20-35mm 3.5-6 I think. They are all pretty terrific lenses. I didn't pay more than $100 for any of them, some of them not even close to that. So I guess I'll always have a Nikon body lying around. Right now it's the D300 which has a nice big optical viewfinder so manual focus is quite easy. I'm not actually a fan of focus peaking in the mirrorless cameras. I find it inaccurate in situations where focus needs to be on something very specific but maybe that's just me. The green focus dot in the Nikon bodies has never let me down and I find it quick and easy to use. The D700 is tempting, I think I would quite like it as a fun camera. Welcome back...a break is always a good idea.

Wally said...

and if you shoot at ISO 100 with the Godox AD200 or Studio Strobes and it's for the small screen you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a "modern" camera...

Kirk Decker said...

There are three MF Nikon lenses that live in my camera bag next to the latest and greatest Nikon glass. A 15mm f/3.5, 50mm f/1.2, and 105mm f/2.8 macro. They are in there because they help me make salable images that my clients buy. The fact that Nikon’s lens mount remains unchanged means you can do fun things like use the same lens to shoot film on a F2 and digital on a D850. Post the results side by side and ask people to pick which is which. As an aside, I also think that if I don't have a financial stake in a person's business or a blog, I literally have no business giving them a hard time about what camera to use, what articles to write. Sorry about the family stress, Kirk, been there, done that, glad you're back.

Fred said...

I find the photo of the radio particularly compelling.

Vincent Morretino said...

I'm glad to see you writing again!

I am not a full time photographer where only photography work pays my bills. I am a full time graphic designer and photographer in Indianapolis, and I shoot weddings and portraits in the summer and I am halfway through my 3rd year of college @ 37 years old. I currently use a D700 and two D300s for all of my photography jobs, and most of my lenses are AF lenses from the film days:

28-70mm f/2.8 AF-S
85mm f/1.8 AF-D
80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D

A great thing about the D700 is that I can use my 35mm f/1.8 AF-S DX lens on it as wide as f/2 and it doesn't vignette so bad that I can't easily fix it in Lightroom. If I'm not mistaken, I think i may have read about doing that on your website a few years ago while digging through the archives.

I sometimes put my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 on my D700, as well, with the shade and filter off and can use it at 15-16mm with no vignette.

I see that it's the opinion on here that having such outdated gear would be considered a hobby kit, but I still have fun and make money with my gear. I've made 16x20 prints shot from my D300 @ 3200 ISO that came out clean enough, and 24x36 prints from my D700 that were excellent @ 6400 ISO.

If you are considering a D700, they are super cheap but a well taken care of camera will perform great. Been using mine since 2013, and the D300s since 2011.