Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nikon D7200 Review

Nikon D7200 Body

In the most fitting way possible, we begin the this review of the apparently not-so-changed  D7200 by recycling the opening to the D7100 review from 2013:

"It must have been something of a sinking feeling for those waiting for a successor to the Nikon D300s to see the arrival of the very well spec’d D7100.  Though some may argue against, I hold that the D7000 was indeed the commercial successor to the D300s whether or not Nikon admitted to it and that the D7100 is now the second camera to carry the line forward."

Wash, rinse and repeat. Along this line of reasoning, the D7200 is now the third "successor" to the D300s. There may be yet a full-metal body pro-spec serious DX camera yet that can assume the mantle of the D300, but if it ever comes it will be so late as to be likely called the D500, especially given how often the number "5" is creeping into the Nikon's current model names. Until then, Nikon was iterated the D7100 in the most literal way possible; by recycling the core concept and apparently much of the packaging. The specs are:

  • 24MP APS-C sensor
  • Larger expanded ISO range (to ISO 102,400)
  • 6 fps burst, larger buffer 
  • 51-point MultiCAM 3500DX2 autofocus system
  • Improved low light focusing to -3EV, one stop better than D7100
  • 2,016 pixel RGB sensor exposure sensor (like D610, unlike D750)
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC
  • Upgraded video (like D810 and D750), including Flat Picture Control
  • 1080p video at 60fps, but it 1.3x crop mode only
  • Battery life up from 950 to 1110 shots per charge
  • Body only price: $1,199.95 USD (Unchanged from D7100)

The problem with modern discourse... of any kind... is that subtlety is a dying art. In the way that things are perceived, they are either superlative or they are lacking. That is to say, in the vernacular of the internet, things either rock or they suck. (Cue George Orwell: Double plus good, comrade!) This is unfortunate, as reality always falls in between these two extremes. This is very much the case with the Nikon D7200. It's not  full frame, it's not smaller and lighter and to be quite honest, it's barely a change over its predecessor.  And yet, it's a good camera. A very good camera. Expectations shape perceptions of course. If you perceive the D7200 as being a letdown, then it's because you have a certain set of expectations. If you approach the D7200 with no expectations, then it's a great performance bargain, just as the serious Nikon DX cameras before it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II Review

Left: Version 1    Right: Version II

As the old saying goes, small cheap good: pick two but you can't have all three. If it is small and good, it's not cheap. If it is cheap and good, it generally isn't small. If it is small and cheap, it's not necessarily good. This is a good adage to remember when you shop for camera gear, as it keeps your expectations in line and helps you set a budget for the gear that you need and can afford.

Of course, the key word is expectation. The AF-S DX Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II is small, cheap and good... if your expectation of what "good" means is kept in check. To make it clear, this isn't damning with faint praise, as the second version of this lens is better in every regard over the original 55-200VR. That lens in itself was an improvement over the original non-stabilized 55-200mm lens, and was (and is) a good lens by virtue of being compact and offering reasonable image quality at an affordable price.

However, time moves on. Because of the rise of mirrorless cameras, the 55-200mm VR, which is mall for a DSLR lens, is "big" for a generation that is only accustomed to only travelling with nothing more than a smartphone. Nikon addressed that by adding a retracing mechanism to the lens body. This was first seen on the Nikon 1 kit lenses; a retracting version of the 18-55mm VR kit lens is sold with later versions of the D3200, D3300 and D5300.

Left: Version 1    Right: Version II

Truth be told, with the lens retraced, this is an impressively small package to reach 200mm on the DX format. That said, it isn't what makes this lens good.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

DSLR VS Mirrorless: The Camera Market in 2015

Left to Right: Olympus E-M5II, Sony A6000, Fujifilm XE-2, Nikon D5500, Canon SL1

What you see above is an assortment of mid-tier DSLR and mirrorless cameras. They occupy different price points and serve different target markets, but all can be said to be "smaller large-sensor interchangeable lens cameras" which also have good image quality and/or handling in a portable package. Crudely speaking, these are cameras for people who love the act of picture-taking but who don't like carrying stuff around. This is a tricky market segment for the camera companies. People who love cameras tend to also like stuff... as in buying it and carting it around to places. Your typical Nikon D7100/7200 or Canon 7DmII user is unlike the typical buyers of the above 5 cameras. If anything, advanced enthusiasts are atypical of the market in that they tend to buy multiple lenses, whereas the mid-tier group may buy one or two extra lenses... over the entire lifetime of their camera ownership.

For this reason, the mid-tier is a tricky market to serve because the customers know enough to go for the better quality of a large sensor camera but aren't so fully committed to photography that they want to accumulate extra gear. This is a sticking point for many entering the camera market; for a generation that came of age during the smartphone revolution, anything bigger than an iPhone is "big." This is a demographic that is simply not used to carrying stuff around. Look at all of the things that a smartphone replaces: it's not just cameras, a smart phone also takes the place of a watch, a calculator, a music player,a day planner....

So ostensibly, the message to the camera manufacturer's is that people want smaller cameras. To that end, the conventional wisdom is that mirrorless cameras are the future. That';s been the sentiment for a number of years now. It's more true than ever before, and in two ways its still off in the future. The first reason is practical: mirrorless cameras have obvious size benefits over traditional DSLR's, but the second reason is more problematic. The issue with forecasting the future is not so much a matter of "what will happen", but "who will make it happen"... and "who" is a matter of who is willing and who is capable. Therein lies the problem, as Canon and Nikon, being heavily invested in the DSLR route and are not willing, whereas the mirrorless camera makers, with the possible exception of Sony, are not able. Not at the rate things are going.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Nikon D7200 Launch Review: First Impressions

Nikon D7200 with AF-S 18-140mm lens

The Nikon D7200 is the inevitable successor to the D7100. Despite all of the attention that Nikon hopes that you will pay to their FX lineup, the truth of the matter is that a larger proportion of their consumers are DX users. Since this is an unavoidable fact, Nikon has finally turned their own attention to serious-DX again. The headline specs are:

  • 24MP APS-C sensor
  • Larger expanded ISO range (to ISO 102,400)
  • Body is similar (same as?) to D7100 
  • 6 fps burst, larger buffer (Huzzah!)
  • 51-point MultiCAM 3500DX2 autofocus system
  • Improved low light focusing to -3EV, one stop better than D7100
  • 2,016 pixel RGB sensor exposure sensor (like D610, unlike D750)
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC
  • ME-W1 wireless microphone option
  • Upgraded video (like D810 and D750), including Flat Picture Control
  • Battery life up from 950 to 1110 shots per charge
  • Body only price: $1,199.95 USD (Unchanged from D7100)

It goes without saying that owners of the D7100 will get better value by holding off an upgrade until the next generation... or biting the bullet to jump to full frame. This is just common camera sense, and has applied since the beginning of the DSLR boom. However, on its on merits, the D7200 is a feature laden camera that can perform in multiple roles. Despite the fact that full frame is "better" and that mirrorless is "the future", the D7100 (and cameras like it) was one of the best all-around cameras available. It wasn't as big, expensive and heavy as full frame, had much better focusing and metering than most mirrorless cameras, and had competitive image quality. What it wasn't, though, was the flavour of the day. The serious-enthusiast portion of the DSLR market is still probably the biggest segment in terms of market value, but its been a long time since the heyday of the D200 and D300, so it isn't as talked about. Nonetheless, the D7200 inherits its predecessor's virtues, so it will likely again be a value-packed "serious" camera. In the (probable) words of Ken Rockwell, it's "The World's Best Camera to Date (asterisk)". Actually, that would probably be mostly true...