Old 04-03-2008, 07:44 PM   #1
John West
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Cool Do I need more camera?

About a year ago I bought a little Nikon D40 as my first digital camera. The D40 is a 6 MP camera, and has been replaced by the 10 MP D40X. The D40 and kit lens is now available for $500, maybe less if you shop around. The D40 was highly recommended by camera guru Ken Rockwell as being more "cost effective" than the D40X which costs $200 or so more. I also invested in an 18-200 VR lens, which actually cost far more than the camera.

It took a few months for me to put aside my F100 and Provia, but finally did. And am not looking back.

The little D40 is amazingly capable. Its 6 MP's provide tack sharp highly cropped 11x14 prints. It is a feather weight machine that is SO easy to carry around. The meter is a bit quirky, and the D40 does not allow me to bracket. But in general whatever "bad" pictures I get are my fault not the cameras.

My question to this august group of experts is, do I need to invest in a D200 or (gasp!) D300. I assumed the D40 would quickly become a backup to a more "serious" body. But now I'm beginning to wonder.

Can the folks here given me some insight on what advantages in every day railfan shooting that I am likely to get from further investment in a "better" camera. I can think of the obvious ones (bracketing being one), but are there some more subtle advantages that a relatively new digital shooter like me might miss.

Thanks in advance.
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Old 04-03-2008, 08:24 PM   #2
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One question first, where do you "publish" your pictures? RP, other web sites, 4x6 prints at home, 8x12 prints, 20x30 prints, magazine submissions, books, galleries, sell prints on line, etc.

And where do you aspire to publish, or expect to?
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Old 04-03-2008, 08:25 PM   #3
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Here is a side by side comparison of the 4 cameras you mentioned. I shoot Canon and do not know much about specific Nikon cameras or glass.

Nikon Camera Comparison
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Old 04-03-2008, 08:40 PM   #4
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Why won't it let you bracket?
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Old 04-03-2008, 08:44 PM   #5
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Janusz, I suppose my primary target in terms of quality is an 11x14 print hanging from my wall, although my wife tells me I am running out of wall space where she will allow train pix. May have to add on to the house.

Beyond that, there are the slide shows with the boys, an occasional Winterail presentation, infrequently a calendar picture, and even less frequently a few pix in books and mags. And of course RP. It's my personal meditation, and "publication" is a bonus.

Brad, I'm trying to look beyond the technical specs. And certainly do not want to get into a Canon versus Nikon debate, I just happened to grow up with Nikons. What I am looking for are the technical gizmos that have actually helped a user to get a better picture. Or perhaps even a more general, hey, I really do get better pix with a D200. For example the D200 is reputed to have a better exposure program, but I have no idea how much better.

Again, thanks.
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Old 04-03-2008, 08:47 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Freericks
Why won't it let you bracket?
I should have been more specific. There is no auto-bracketing program on the D40. It certainly allows you to bracket manually if that was what you were getting at.
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Old 04-03-2008, 08:50 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John West
I should have been more specific. There is no auto-bracketing program on the D40. It certainly allows you to bracket manually if that was what you were getting at.
Oh... okay... You had me wondering if it didn't allow for you to make your own adjustments.
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Old 04-03-2008, 09:33 PM   #8
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Hi John,

I'm a Canon user and don't know too much about Nikon, but I do have a friend (who post snaps here) who uses a Nikon D200. We do go out snapping together and I can tell you that at 200ISO his Nikon and my Canon produce excellent results. The difference comes when the light goes down and the ISOs have to go up, once above 400ISO the Nikon quality goes down, whilst the Canon happily goes on up to 1600ISO ( I've shown results of this speed before) or even 3200ISO.

HOWEVER Nikon have now changed their sensor from CCD to CMOS, the same technology as Canon. The two latest Nikons D300 and D3 both produce much better images than their predecessors.

So if you have money to spend and fancy a new camera, and want to stick to Nikon then try a D300.

Beware though a bird photographer friend didn't rate the D300 sensor, but she is hyper critical of her camera and her own photography.

Try taking your lenses and a lash card to your local deal and knock of a couple of test shots so you can assess the results for yourself.

If of course your D40 produces results that please you and others then stick with it and spend the money of trips out to take more shots .

Keep Well

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Old 04-03-2008, 09:50 PM   #9
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Hey John, you have been the ball now with it's photographing trains for many decades and all the photo's impress. I think you should definetly treat yourself and buy the D300. I am a Canon user but Nikon is on the ball with digital SLR's now. I am sure the d40 produces good results but the D300 can do so much more. The D300 is 1,799 at B&H photo in NYC.
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Old 04-03-2008, 11:01 PM   #10
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Default CCD versus CMOS

Quote:
Originally Posted by alan-crotty
HOWEVER Nikon have now changed their sensor from CCD to CMOS, the same technology as Canon. The two latest Nikons D300 and D3 both produce much better images than their predecessors.Alan
Thanks for reminding me of that Alan, I was vaguely aware of the high ISO noise improvement but had forgotten to count it amoung the reasons to get a D300.
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Old 04-04-2008, 01:11 AM   #11
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I went with the D80 with the 18-135 Nikkor lens its a great camera and it has bracketing i havent had a chance to go out and shoot trains with it much because its been raining a lot here lately. its very similar to the D200 only a lot smaller and lighter and a whole heck of a lot cheaper $1009.99 at ritz camera with the 135mm lens i belive the D200 is around $1600 just for the body but since you already have the 18-200 Nikkor VR lens you could just buy a D80 body for around $799, the D80 will overexspose easily as i have noticed but its easily fixed by just turning the shutter speed up and turning the EV steps down. it also has the exact same image processor as the D200 the 10mp ccd it seems to work very good i dont know much about the D300 if your new to the DSLR world then the D80 would be a better choice theres also a D60 that just came out Its about the same as the D80 except for the little lcd screen on top of the camera so like the D40 you'll have to change everything on the menus in the camera where as with the D80 and D200 everything is right at your finger tips.
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Old 04-04-2008, 01:21 AM   #12
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Let me get this straight - I don't like the D40 or D40x. In fact, they're my least favorite DSLRs, period. I'd rather have an Olympus, and I hate the tiny viewfinder.
Get a D300 =) You won't believe the difference.
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Old 04-04-2008, 02:42 AM   #13
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The 11x14 was mainly for number of pixels. 6mp will be ok but it would make a difference, slight much of the time but I think you would be one to appreciate it on the print, to have more.

From what I know of your stuff, you probably know a lot about cameras and probably go full manual much or all of the time. I think, for you, it is feel in the hand - ergonomics - and maybe a few features. Low light performance in particular.

Given what you have said, I think low light performance is the primary reason.
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Old 04-04-2008, 03:07 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JRMDC
The 11x14 was mainly for number of pixels. 6mp will be ok but it would make a difference, slight much of the time but I think you would be one to appreciate it on the print, to have more
That's an interesting observation. I would have never have thunk it. But you probably are right. There MUST be more to pixels than marketing hype.
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Old 04-04-2008, 03:19 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John West
That's an interesting observation. I would have never have thunk it. But you probably are right. There MUST be more to pixels than marketing hype.
At the digicam level I think there is a lot of hype, which tends to ignore what one loses with more mp on those tiny sensors - noise. But at the DSLR level, I think there is a difference. Not nearly enough to go from 8 to 10, in my view, but you are going from 6 to 10 and that is a bigger difference. 66% vs 25%! (Well, that's in two dimensions, on each edge it is something like 29% vs. 12%.) Plus, whatever results you get with your modest cropping, you are now able to get and occasionally do a crazy strong crop and maybe get something that you didn't see at the time you were shooting.
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Old 04-04-2008, 04:02 AM   #16
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Hi John,

Short and sweet and FWIW....

I used to shoot a 5MP camera and went to the D40x. I DO notice the difference between 5MP and 10.2MP when cropping for RP or prints. For me, the extra investment in the D40x over the D40 was worth it. The only feature the D40x does not have that I would really like is the autobracketing...which you have mentioned.

I did look at higher end Nikons and dismissed them all. All I had to do was pick them up. I decided I didn't want an avil around my neck all day long....especially when running to get to a shooting position....and yes, I do that frequently. The light weight of the D40x was a huge selling point.

Some day, I may get a higher end body as a second camera, but I'll still have something light (D40x) in my bag if I need to take a hike.

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Old 04-04-2008, 06:22 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KevinM
All I had to do was pick them up. I decided I didn't want an avil around my neck all day long.
The light weight was a big selling point when I purchased the D40. I was used to carrying an F100 with a 80-200/2.8 around.....talk about an anvil.
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Old 04-12-2008, 09:23 AM   #18
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Good Morning John,

HAve you purchased a new camrea yet?

I know you were considering the D300.

If you have not yet made a decission then pleasewait as I have just concluded some tests using a D300 which may interest or influence yourchoice.

I am busy today and away from home hence having to post raher than email you direct.


I will be in contact tomorrow.

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Old 04-12-2008, 07:05 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alan-crotty

Have you purchased a new camera yet?
Look forward to hearing about your tests. No new camera yet, still using my little D40. When the money finally burns a hole in my pocket, my decision will be between the tried and true D200 and the D300 with its alledgedly better sensor.

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Old 04-13-2008, 12:35 AM   #20
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John, a couple of thoughts from a current Canon shooter - though I am quite familiar with both the D40 and the D300, as several shooting friends have owned the former and currently shoot with the latter.

First of all, I wouldn't call Ken Rockwell a "camera guru". He's a tireless self-promoter, who's wonderfully quixotic "reviews" (often made having never touched or seen the camera being reviewed) are, like most of his in-your-face, condescending opinions, famously consistent in their inconsistency. That said...

Yes, you'll see, and I think appreciate, many of the differences between your camera and the D300. I'll start with pixels. Sure, "megapixels" get overhyped. Most casual camera buyers rarely take their images beyond small web images, email, some 4x6's, and the very occasional 8x10. Frankly, a GOOD 3MP camera satisifies most of these needs.

But you're talking about 11x14 prints. At 11x14, your D40 measures out to about 180ppi, which simply doesn't equate to what most would consider excellent print quality. Add in some cropping (beyond just cropping the long edge for aspect ratio issues), and you only get worse. Conventional wisdom suggests that top quality prints begin somewhere in the neighborhood of 240-300ppi at print size. By contrast, the D300 will measure out to approximately 260ppi at 11x14, comfortably within the high-quality range, and even allowing some cropping leeway.

How much will you notice these differences in a print? Depends on the subject, but in shots which depend heavily on surrounding complex landscape (mountains, lots of foliage, etc.), it'll be VERY noticeable.

And, of course, as others have mentioned, the differences in high-ISO performance is not to be discounted. Remember, all pixels are not created equal. The D300 not only has more pixels, it has BETTER pixels.

And then there're all of the other improvements. The D300's metering is superb (one of the areas where I believe the mid to hi-end Nikons currently beat Canon), as is the very versatile (some would suggest almost too versatile) lightening fast, and accurate autofocus system. Both are large cuts above the capabilities of your D40, and simply make the body a better tool.

And finally, as someone else has mentioned, there's the viewfinder. Take a peek through the larger, brighter, 100% coverage viewfinder, which uses a real pentaprism rather than the cheaper, dimmer, fuzzier pentamirror of the entry level bodies, and I believe you'll be sold.

As you already know, what you'll give up is size and weight. Here, I'll admit my bias - I actually prefer a larger, heavier camera body - but even if you don't, I think you'll appreciate what you gain with the extra weight.

The D40 really is a good camera, but the D300 is both a better tool, and produces top-quality images. These are difference I think you'll appreciate both out in the field, and in the quality of prints you'll get.

But take these comments with the usual grain of salt... I LOVE helping spend someone elses money!

Scott

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Old 04-13-2008, 12:54 AM   #21
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Hi John,

The D200 and D300 have similar bodies, control layouts and weight to your F100, so they will feel quite natural to you. Personally I like a bit of heft to steady the shakes!

Since you have expressed an interest in bracketing, there is one major difference between the D200/D300's and the light weight Nikons. That is the size of the buffer. I resisted going digital for a long time, but when a friend moved up to the D200 from his D70, he sold it to me cheap. One trip with the D70 convinced me that digital was the way to go, but that the D70 was not enough camera for me. It had a crummy viewfinder and a 7 shot buffer. Bracketing allowed me to shoot only two sequences before the camera slowed way down. A month later I bought a D200 with a 21 shot buffer and have been a happy camper ever since.

I didn't do much extremely low light shooting when I first started out, so noise wasn't a concern, but once you discover that you can hand hold with your VR lens and shoot night scenes at 1/5 second, you will start doing it. The D300 has much lower noise at high ISO and my friends who have them tell me they like the auto focus better. Of course, a 3" lcd screen is better than a 2.5" and it offers live view. I've got some ideas of how I would use that feature, but no one has really made much of a point of using it though. May be one of those bells and whistles that just doesn't get used much.

One other consideration is the degree of weather sealing. The D200/D300 are really well sealed. I don't know about the D40 but a friend of mine using a D70 had it malfunction when shooting a plow train when powder snow was able to get in and short out the card. Fortunately recovery software worked when he got home and the images were still there.

I like my D200 enough that I didn't see any point in trading up to a D300, but if I was buying my first semi-pro camera, it would have to be the D300. I know that the Canon brigade are very happy with their cameras, but I've shot Nikon for too many years, have too many lenses and am too old to learn a whole new way of controlling the camera. The Digital Nikons were a direct development from the F100, so there was no big learning curve.

Michael Allen
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Old 04-13-2008, 07:49 PM   #22
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Cool

Thanks guys, my education continues. Lots of good information here, and very much appreciate the time spent writing it all down.

Janusz had mentioned the pixel "density" issue before. Even though the cropped 11x14 prints I've made look good, my guess is they would not look as good in a side by side comparison with an actual 300 dpi print.

Alan-Crotty sent me via email some very interesting side by side shots from his Canon 1D2 and a friends new D300. Gotta say, the Canon sure seems to have the technological edge on sensors, and Alan's camera was somewhat older technology. I think the interesting issue here is that perhaps the new D300 sensor is not that much better than the D200. And it has been conventional wisdom that the Canons were better at high ISO; Alan's images confirmed that in spades, but I was intrigued with how much better the Canon was at ISO 200. But how much the differences show up in normal use is a different question.

Hopefully all this discussion also is of value to others looking at new digital cameras.

Again, thanks to all.
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Old 04-14-2008, 12:56 AM   #23
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A couple of other quick comments, John. First of all, keep in mind that while Alan's 1DMkII is now "yesterday's" 1D, it's still Canon's top-of-the-line sports/PJ camera minus one generation, while the D300 is Nikon's top mid-range (prosumer, or whatever you want to call it) camera. It also reflects the huge lead Canon had in high ISO images. The ID is a much pricier camera, and is also closer to full frame - meaning larger photosite sizes - meaning less noise. Compare the D300 to Canon's current top mid-range camera (also a crop sensor), the 40D and you'll get a much more telling comparison between current Canon and Nikon sensor technology.

I was a very early digital SLR adopter (2001), and switched from Nikon to Canon when I bought my first digital SLR, as Nikon didn't offer anything comparable at the time. I stayed with Canon and invested in the system because I thought that, while Nikon made some nice bodies, their sensors stayed a ways behind Canon in image quality. And I continued to feel that way right up until Nikon released the top-end D3, and the midrange D300.

In particular, I've looked in pretty good detail at D200 & D300 images, and I would disagree with your assessment that the D300 isn't that much ahead of the D200, especially at high ISO. No, it isn't Canon 1 series quality, but it isn't Canon 1 series priced either, and it IS doggone good, definitely the best Nikon's made yet, and in some ways the camera body itself is better - especially considering price. And this is a Canon guy talking.

And finally... I am particularly surprised at the differences you saw at ISO 200. I've never seen anything to complain about at those low ISOs, even when playing the pixel peeking game. Interesting.

In any event, good luck with your decision.

Scott
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Old 04-15-2008, 02:59 AM   #24
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Cool Apples and Oranges

While Alan's comparison has an apples and oranges element to it, my gut feel kind of conclusion is it sure supports the idea that Canon has superior sensor technology. But that has been conventional wisdom for some time. No big surprise, but I was sure expecting the D300 to do better given all the hype from Nikon.

If I were starting all over, I'd probably go with Canon. Although some would argue that Nikon is more user friendly. But I've been using Nikon stuff for 45 years, and am too old to change. Heck, I might even find some use for my old Nikkor glass, but I doubt it, the 18-200 VR is just too good.

I would probably be perfectly happy with a D200, but I like the 100 percent view finder on the D300 (like the good ole days with my F), and for a couple of hundred bucks I'll trust Nikon's line that the new sensor is in fact better. Some users certainly seem happy with it. Will the difference ever show up in my work, probably not. Remember, I'm the guy that's happy with my little D40! And the D300 probably has some other gizmo that I'll find useful after I get around to discovering it.

Again, thanks to all who took the time to comment here or email me.
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Old 05-16-2008, 05:47 PM   #25
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Cool Lack of pixels, or?

I am wondering if this image is any indication of the limitations of a 6 MP camera?

Image © John West
PhotoID: 235325
Photograph © John West


When you look at the full version, notice how indistinct the bracing on the bridge is. I have processed this image from the original RAW file several times trying to get a crisper image, but have been unable to do better than this. The posted image is only modestly cropped. Is this lack of pixels, camera shake (I was using a VR lens), poor glass (I was using the 18-200 which is supposed to be good), or just operator stupidity.

Comments appreciated, thanks in advance. By the way, my apologies for lack of EXIF info, but my traditional workflow in PS does this, and I haven't gotten around to changing it for my digital camera images.
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