Cruising around with what was, until recently, the world's best camera for image quality .... Also, the right way to take the day off.

The remnants of a good lunch at the Red Bud Cafe in Blanco, Texas.

I remember just a few months after the Nikon D800/800e was introduced to the market reading the review and scores from DXO. They gave the camera an overall score of 96 for image quality; a score that was only bested at the time, if I remember correctly, by a $40,000 medium format Phase One camera (which was subsequently removed and replaced by the Pentax 645Z at 101). After reading all the current gushing over new models and new sensors across the web I went back to DXO last night thinking I would see dozens of newer cameras easily bettering the scores of the 2012 model Nikon. After all, it's been six years since that camera was debuted. 

Interestingly enough there were very few cameras, across all brands, which even came close to equaling the potential image quality of the D800e (or the D800 which sits one point behind its  sibling). The new Nikon D850 is sitting at 100 points along with the Sony A7Riii, the Nikon D810 is a hair behind those two at at 97 points and the Sony A7Rii is two points ahead of the D800e at 98 points. The latest Pentax ties the six year old Nikon and the latest Sony A7iii is also tied with the D800e. So, Sony might have all the magic and has an eight year advantage over the D800e and.....the score is a tie. Nice. 

These cameras are all so good as to be interchangeable when it comes to image quality. The difference between scores of 96, 98 and 100 are small, almost insignificant, and yet to hear the review sites and $$$-bloggers talk about it the current/new cameras are somehow just so much more spectacular.

It's all nonsense. Slow news days. The market obviously hit a wall at the high end of the camera spectrum back in 2012 and everything since then has been a series of tiny and mostly insignificant "improvements." Nice to know that picking up low mileage used 36 megapixel cameras for around $1,000 each can put one in the same image quality league as new models in the $3200+ category. If you didn't much care about resolution you might also be shocked at just how good the Nikon D700 is when compared to the current $2,000 micro four thirds models. Especially when taking into consideration that the D700 is well over a decade older and currently sells used for around $500. It's enough to make you convert over to buying nothing but used cameras for a while ---- which is exactly what we've been doing around here.

OMG! Health Issues!!! I woke up on Sunday with the beginnings of an ear infection. An annoying discomfort that kept me from swim practice. I woke up the next morning and it was worse. I called my physician and he saw me within the hour. I've been using antibiotic drops since then and will be administering them to myself for a full seven days. I've been out of the pool since our Saturday morning practice and the withdrawal of endorphins has been......annoying. So annoying that I've been out running the trails just to burn off excess energy. I've given up on naps because....why bother? I'm heading over to the drugstore to find some wax earplugs. No one should have to go a full week without swim practice. 

Why I took today off and when road-tripping to Blanco, Texas with Belinda. So, I did four proposals yesterday and we have two approved and two more heading to clients for final approval. It's going to be a busy August and September. I felt like we've been working and taking care of family stuff non-stop lately and, after the successful ( and labor intensive) sale of my parent's house, I just wanted to step off the hamster wheel for a day and chill. 

I've been driving back and forth to San Antonio a lot and my most frequent trips are on Sundays. When I head home the "back way" I go up Hwy. 281 through Blanco, Texas and then through Dripping Springs, Tx. On Sunday afternoons (after 3 p.m.) my favorite café in Blanco (Red Bud Café) is already closed and so is my favorite bakery/coffee stop in Dripping Springs (Thyme and Dough). I also wanted to visit one of the breweries and one of the distilleries in Blanco as they've been winning awards, generating great press and turning out really good products. But Sundays......

Today, after a long morning walk in downtown Austin I came home and asked Belinda what was on her schedule. Nothing earthshaking. So we left Ben (waiting to hear back about a couple job offers) and Studio Dog (patrolling the perimeter of the VSL compound, and begging for treats from Ben...) and we headed through the Hill Country to Blanco. I took the above mentioned camera (D800e) and the 24-120mm f4 VR along for the ride. 

This is barrel #1 at the Ben Milam Whiskey distillery. I first sampled their 
Whiskey at my local Twin Liquors Store and it was pretty amazing. 
I have a swim coach who is a partner in a competing whiskey business 
so I won't make any claims for ultimate drinking satisfaction.
I'll just say that all good whiskey is subjectively appreciated. 
I appreciate Milam...a lot. 

It was early in the day so we didn't sample. But we did get a quick tour of the facility and heard about their plans for expansion. Double Gold Medals at a international show go a long way toward spurring growth....

Not yet labeled. 

I don't know what this does but it sure looks cool and industrial chic. 

53 Gallon Barrels of Texas Whiskey. 

Our next stop was at the Real Ale Brewing Company just down the highway. (by the way, I'm renaming Hwy. 290 West = Liquor Lane because there are so many start-up distilleries, breweries and wineries along that road. Idea = photo tours from Austin, going from distillery to brewery to winery all day long, with lots of stops for camera work and beverage sampling...). We went through their tap room and out onto the catwalk overlooking their very modern production facility. Amazing how big the giant tanks are. There's a lot of good stuff going on around Blanco which belies its 1800+ population numbers....  Mmmmmm. Fireman's Four. MMMMMM. The Devil's Backbone (two great ales).

Adding something to the mash at Milam. 

Belinda and I had lunch at the Red Bud Café and then headed back to Austin. I couldn't resist two more activities before we got back to our respective offices and re-joined the U.S. workforce. One was to wash my car at the car wash in Dripping Springs (I think my car really likes it...) and the other was to stop at Thyme and Dough bakery for some good coffee and their "Cadillac" cookie = oatmeal, chocolate, walnuts, and pecans. Since we did all of our driving outside the expansive rush hour times in Austin we had smooth sailing in both directions. 

Nice day to just tool around Texas. Glad I brought my (current) favorite camera along for the ride. 

flare test with the 50mm Sigma ART, from this morning's walk.

Finally, I think I've written too much about the Nikon D700 at this point. Two of my favorite readers let me know this week that they've ordered D700s and are looking forward to checking out the magic. I can only think that this new demand will spike pricing on the dwindling stock of D700s out there in the used market, depriving me of future bargains. Ah well. I can't fault my readers for their good taste. 


Mike Rosiak said...

If I hadn't mentioned it before, then this makes three. $450 for a very nice "studio queen" D700 - i.e., not beaten up by swinging from a neck strap for most of its life.

Matched it to a used 28-80mm from B&H, for about $60. (And, between my wife and I, we have about eight manual focus Nikkors.)

Roger Jones said...

Ok, lets start with your ears. Are you asking for trouble? Your MD said, "No swimming" "No pool" with or without ear plugs. I had a patient that is now wearing hearing aids because he didn't listen, and now he's wearing hearing aides so he can listen, get it? That make sense? Does to me. Get a bicycle, ride around Texas it's great exercise. Don't forget a helmet. Oh, that's right, you don't need a helmet because your going to buy ear plug instead. You know ear plugs may cause or increase the severity of the infection even with drops. Food for thought. Ask your MD.

Buy a used bike, and buy a used cameras, it's the best way to go. The D700 is magic, I have my two, next D800e right after the new Nikon comes out and they get cheaper. Have two Sigma SD15 and the IQ is wonderful as good as my D700.

Don't mind me, I'm retired and have every day off and it's fun for a while, but gets boring too. Looks like you had fun, that's great.

Take care

Anthony Alongi said...

Long time reader and fan. But it's the whiskey that forced my first comment. That "thing" is the actual still. Its the key apparatus in a distillery. A kind of beer goes in one end, is heated vaporizing the alcohol, and is then cooled resulting in a clear spirit (white dog!). Then they age it to make the magical double gold winning nectar!

I am actually heading to Austin Saturday for a conference - might head out that direction in my spare time. If I see you out and about - or at Precison- the beverage is on me!

Take care and keep up the great work.

Tony A.

PJM said...

I never thought I would contribute a comment on your blog about ears, but here it is. I get ear infections from swimming quite easily. I think I have narrow ear canals, which allows the water to get trapped. I was referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor and he probed my ears, looked down my throat and up my nose (he covered all the parts of his specialty!). He then wrote on a yellow sticky note the following: 1/3 rubbing alcohol; 1/3 distilled water; 1/3 white vinegar. Mix. 2-3 drops in affected ear after swimming until symptoms are gone. I had been using antibiotics to fix my ear infections, but this doctor told me the old ways are often the best ways. I got a dropper from the drugstore and treat my ears whenever I feel the telltale signs of infection. The rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol helps dry the ears, the vinegar restores the pH balance and the water is just a medium for the whole thing.
I live in Canada and so have access to that horrible, awful socialized medicine (it's really quite good), and this solution might be hocus pocus, but it worked for me and it isn't another course of antibiotics. Give it a whirl next time.

Got a good deal on a D750 with the 24-120 f4. I'm no pro, but the images look fantastic to me and the ergonomics beat the pants off my m4:3 camera.



Anonymous said...

Wax earplugs are next to useless.

The pool strainers at my work swimming pools are full of them everyday...

Russ said...

Whiskey and the D700... Kirk, you're a genius! I know, stolen from an old Lowenbrau commercial, but I just couldn't resist.

Kirk Tuck said...

A reply to Roger Jones: Okay. Dammit. You convinced me. I skipped the swim AGAIN and went for a run today instead. Since I swim with Lance Armstrong I already think that bikes are the tools of Satan and sold my last one a year or so ago. If God had meant for people to straddle metal tubes in order to exercise.....(can't think of a good line...). I do like to hear things so I'll continue my course of antibiotics and continue grinding my teeth. Thanks for taking time to inform me. I do appreciate your concern and your good advice.

Now, what do you think about maybe me buying just one more D700?

PJM. That's my usual maintenance when I exit the pool but I got lazy, didn't do the drops after swimming in the lake for a couple of days. Never have this problem in our pool. Vigilance, the new watchword.

John F. Opie said...

Hi Kirk et al,

I looked into Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2018, but no Ben Milam Distillery listed. Jim even lists the tiny Peach Street Distilley, which makes a fabulous bourbon from world-class corn from the western slope of Colorado, but no Ben Milam...

Best, John

Roger Jones said...

To Kirk
Smart move on skipping swimming practice. Even ear plugs don't stop all water, and may even hold it in. I'm impressed you swim with Armstrong, good for you. I still believe he was one of the best riders of all time. I don't think what he did was all that bad, I mean everyone back then did that. To strip him of his medals was to much. I understand how you feel about the tools of Satan, but I still love to ride those tubes of steel (put something hot between your legs. Although back in 1992 I almost gave up after a mountain biking crash that took the U.S. Olympic biking surgeon 3 hours and 40 minutes to put my right arm and elbow back together. 3 Months 7 screws, and one steel plate later I was back riding. My first love is running, but it's hard on the joints and ankles.
Ok, as for the D700, you should buy another as part of your medical recover plan. It's good therapy.
Lake water is some of the worst for parasites and microbes especially in warm weather.
Good luck with your recovery. Do all of your ear drops so you don't have a relapse.
Take care

Mitch said...


I sold my 3 because I'd hammered the shutters and Nikon has a way of declaring things at the "end of service life", no longer repairing them. Sure independent shops still will fix them, but the clock is ticking on some older stuff, especially for us higher volume shooters.

I still, today, love the files those cameras made when I come across one. And I loved the files that the D3s' made that I replaced the D700's with.

Oh and all of these cameras were used, low miles.

Except for key lenses and flash equipment, I buy so much stuff used. Plenty of folks around who declare things obsolete because something new has arrived.

Have to admit I was tempted to pick up a D800 or 3 to replace my tiring D750's, especially since there are tons out there for well under $1,000 with low miles. But I'm addicted to the articulating screen of the D750, and my workflow is settled for the file size and "look" I get from SOOC files, such that delivering 300 files from a shoot this week was smooth and predictable. Just like the look of the ISO 10,000 files from parts of the shoot were predictable and familiar. Besides, used low miles D750's are pretty cheap, with their being "aging technology" and all.

I was tempted by a D810 with low miles that someone was selling cheap because they were ... "upgrading" ...

Glad I don't have a real live shop near me like you do where I could wander in and continuously buy perfectly great obsolete stuff.