Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Power Purchasing Nikkors

In the quest for the Digital Grail of Nikkor optics,there are two principle methods of purchase - eBay (and other similar auction/Buy It now resources) and online retailers. Let's look at them a little...

The advantages and disadvantages of eBay-style purchases are obvious - pay the stated price or wind through the auction process for a potential 'win'. You can ask questions and check their rating as a seller, but that's time consuming and offer no real buying advantage. Without written assurances, you have little recourse but to accept your purchase as long as it is what they described. It can easily become a 'pig-in-a-poke' situation and we'll find ourselves reselling that item ourselves. It works, but...

Online Retailers
This lesser known resource requires a little more upfront effort but has some real advantages to gain. As in any typical retail relationship, a solid dealer will offer you more assurances of satisfaction and options to return without debate. I have used both methods about 50/50 and like this one for it perks. For example...

Once, I checked up on a none too common 35/2 AI-S I was tracking on eBay and noticed it was being sold by XXX Camera. Hmmmm, why not check their website and see if it's for sale there too? I can get an idea of what they want and ... maybe I can buy it before it is bid on and lost to a savvy eBayer!

Sure enough, they had it listed in their used gear for $110 in an 8 condition. I pulled up my Nikkor serial numbers reference webpage, gave 'em a call and had the kindly salesman give me the specs and a thorough examination of its condition on the phone. As a late model AI-S, all the important areas checked out and I bought this gem for $122 shipped with a 48-hour no-questions-asked return opportunity.

Online retailers frequent eBay constantly. Call them if they haven't received any bids yet and have the item listed on their website. You may be able to avoid the auction process and save money too - that's power purchasing!


180/2.8 ED AI-S Nikkor - go loooonnnnggg!

Here are a few images - and 100% crop enlargements - taken in the Great Smoky Mountains on New Year's Day 2007 to demonstrate the remarkable quality the renowned 180/2.8 ED AI-S Nikkor.

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All images shot at f8


24/2.8 Nikkor AI-S: A funny little lens it is...

Funny because of the way this lens performs on my D200 - or should I say the way the D200 performs with this lens. Here's why.

In the course of using the Electronic Rangefinder to confirm focus (since the image is so small), I was horrified to see soft images emerge from my first few frames. I got a lemon, I thought - hodgbodkins! But then I noticed that after the ER llight came on I could turn the focus ring quite a bit before the ER light went back off - now that's funny.

So, starting from infinity, I took a frame right after the ER light came ON while turning the focus ring - and another just before it turned OFF. Voila! Sharp images occurred at one extreme end of the ER's focus range - and garbage on the other. Funny, huh? Take a look at these 100% center section crops - no PP whatsoever:

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Soft Center at Infinity Side of ER

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Sharp Center at Closest Focus Side of ER

So what to do? It's simple really - I start the focus ring scale turned to the right and move towards the infinity setting. As soon as the ER light appears I stop - that's where sharp focus will occur. Chimping confirms whether I am on the money or not. A little slow but, then again, it is a MF prime...

With a 52mm filter size, this Nikkor model will utilize many accessories I already have - including the Lester Dine Macro Ringlight (a major reason for buying it). The 24/2.8 AI-S is in perfect shape with nary a mark in the paint and perfect glass. It weighs next to nothing and at an effective focal length of 36mm , the 24/2.8 Nikkor AI will make a great 'normal' prime for many subjects.


AI > DSLR Mounting Reference

Did you know that you can mount pre-AI optics on a D40 - and NO other current Nikon DSLR?

This and other details are available on Thom Hogan's site at this webpage - a valuable reference of not only Nikkor acronyms but AI/AI-S compatibility on Nikon DSLRs as well. Not all current Nikon bodies are the same - no news there - but the functionality of various optics on them is.


Nikon D300 Financing 101

When it comes buying a new camera, too many emotions can cloud the opportunities we may have right in front of us. Then the pricing of new models can scare us off and we tend to 'hold out' until some discounting miracle occurs, which normally happens when that model is about to be discontinued.

I am committed to maintaining state-of-the-art equipment with a minimal investment. Owning, but seldom using, multiple camera bodies is very costly long term. Technological advances make these items lose their value quickly enough and resale becomes truly disappointing when little cash value is left. I also don't need more than one camera body either, so learning is enhanced when concentrated on current technology. It also keeps us prepared for further developments that will add real value to our most precious commodity - knowledge.

Therefore, I am no longer a sentimentalist as I once was regarding my main shooter - I have plenty of antique cameras to fondle for that. This is a purely personal perspective and not one everyone shares, I know, but we all get so excited when new models come out - and equally dismayed when we can't afford one! I don't want to be in that position and have created a strategy to avoid it.

By viewing our cameras as we do leased items, we can maximize their value over time while we also minimize the actual cost of ownership. I adopted this approach when I sold my D70 to acquire a D200. I lost more money than I should have because I waited too long - a mistake I won't make again to acquire a D300. So, assuming you own a D200, here is my course of action to upgrade to a D300 as soon as they are available (I have already pre-ordered, BTW):

1) Buy new body at best price upon release - i.e., D200 = $1679
(future discounts offer little real savings over entire model life)
2) Sell current body & recoup an average 60% of purchase price - i.e., D200 = $1000
(estimated resale value of D200 when D300 is released)
3) Use new body for 24 months - repeat Steps 1 & 2

I have conservatively calculated that if I can recoup just 60% on my D200 DSLR body, the cost of ownership of a D300 DSLR will amount to $399.99 a year - or about $33.33 a month - for the next 24 months. If I keep the camera longer, that cost goes down even further.

It's a business expense for me as well, so I save again at tax time. By recapturing the remaining value in your D200 immediately, purchasing the Nikon D300 body can be no more expensive than a new prosumer body model. (A golden nugget here is the fact that the D200 isn't being discontinued. That will preserve resale value longer than if it was deleted from Nikon's lineup - our unique opportunity to upgrade!)

Therefore, I have decided I will NOT retain DSLR gear beyond 24-36 months - the rate of depreciation makes resale and new equipment acquisition a more expensive approach the longer you wait. In view of the enormous value Nikon is including in its newest upper end cameras, it would be financially smarter to purchase a new Nikon 'sooner than later' with such competitive pricing in play.

PS: Ritz Camera pre-orders list the D300 at just $1799 - let's hope that's the actual street price!

The Frugal Mule

D200 vs. D300 Features

The following is a compilation of the feature differences between the D200 and D300. With a proposed 60,000 unit production schedule each month, these compelling advancements will make the D300 the next most popular DSLR Nikon has created. Enjoy...

• 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS sensor
• DX format
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Built-in fixed low-pass filter (with self-cleaning unit)
• 13.1 million total pixels
(• 12.3 million effective pixels
• 3:2 aspect ratio

Image processor
(Real-time lateral chromatic aberration compensation and refined high ISO noise reduction)

A/D Conversion
14 bit

Image sizes
• 4288 x 2848 [L; 12.2 MP]
• 3216 x 2136 [M; 6.9 MP]
• 2144 x 1424 [S; 3.1 MP]

File formats
• NEF (12-bit or 14-bit *, compressed or lossless compressed RAW)
• TIFF *
• JPEG (EXIF 2.21)

Scene Recognition System
(greatly enhances the accuracy of, auto exposure, auto white balance detection and auto focus
in the camera)

Picture Control System
(allows photographers to fine-tune and adjust fundamental rendering options for their pictures so they can define the exact tone, sharpening, brightness and saturation they prefer)

Dust Reduction
• Self-cleaning sensor unit

Auto Focus
• 51 focus points (15 cross-type sensors)
• Multi-CAM 3500DX

Focus Point
• Single point from 51 or 11 focus points
• Liveview (Tripod mode): Contrast AF on a desired point anywhere within frame

AF Area Mode
• Dynamic Area AF [9 points, 21 points, 51 points, 51 points (3D-tracking)]

Exposure Compensation
• +/-5.0 EV
• 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps

• Default: ISO 200 - 3200 in 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps
• Boost: 100 - 6400 in 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps

• Frame coverage 100%

LCD monitor
• 3.0 " TFT LCD
• 922,000 pixels (VGA; 640 x 480 x 3 colors)

LCD Liveview (frame a photograph using the camera's high-resolution LCD monitor)
• Handheld mode: TLL phase-difference AF with 51 focus areas (15 cross-type sensors)
• Tripod mode: focal-plane contrast AF on a desired point within a specific area

Continuous shooting
• With built-in battery: up to 6 fps
• With AC adapter or MB-D10 pack and batteries other than EN-EL3e: up to 8 fps (for up to 100 consecutive shots using a SanDisk Extreme IV CompactFlash 1GB card)

• Compact Flash Type I or II

Vertical grip
• Optional MB-D10 battery pack / vertical grip
• One Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL4a, EN-EL4 or EN-EL3e or eight R6/AA-size alkaline (LR6), Ni-MH (HR6), lithium (FR6) batteries, or nickel-manganese ZR6 batteries

Not bad upgrade for just $1800...

For a great visual comparo of D200 vs. D300 features, go to the Digital Review.ca Website - excellent report there.


Shutter Life Expectancy

Now here is a worthy cause - shutter life expectancy based on reality!

You can select the camera you own and enter data into their database for a history of that camera's shutter life results - the existing info is very interesting - and somewhat scary too!

Go to: Shutter Life Expectancy