Monday, December 15, 2008

FX or DX? That is the Question...

Without getting too controversial, the typical trend toward further development in FX bodies is pressing the above question. So which way do you need to go? It's not likely Nikon will drop the prosumer DX line right away, but eventually DX may not be necessary. What!? Well, how many 6-megapixel DSLRs are there anymore? And how many current 12-megapixel bodies do we have to choose from? Get the point? Older and smaller body models are being phased out faster than ever - and unless Nikon makes a 14-20 megapixel DX body, there's isn't much room left in the AP-C format to grow.

This postulates what the future might be - the rise of FX bodies in the same manner as recent DX models. Instead of a new D60 or D90, we should see the D600 and D900 - FX models created to fill a price point with the continuing feature sets Nikon develops for new cameras. Honestly, I would go bonkers if a D700 base model was developed for under $2000. Would I buy another DX model if it were? Maybe - maybe not...

Our glass collection is the major factor. Obviously. So we need to decide if it's time to reconfigure our kits while these lenses still have any value. Many are problematic. Some are classics. The bottom line of cost over time is more important. Personally, I've spent as much on lesser lenses as I could have on pro glass - and I'm not proud of it. For economic reasons, Nikon isn't overly interested in adding top level performance or extreme focal ranges for DX optics. This presents limitations to the DX lineup as well.

Therefore, I'm moving forward to FX glass - first for the quality and secondly for some longevity as FX rises into the mainstream. The typical DX customer isn't looking for premium glass but will spend an equal amount over time trading up to better versions.

Which one are you? Time will tell...

FX: On the Rise!

Like many serious shooters, you may be wondering if there is any wisdom in continuing to acquire DX lenses with the introduction of FX bodies like the D700. Eventually, economical full-frame sensors will find new bodies to live in and make any DX body a lesser choice for lower noise at higher ISO's and greater dynamic range - this applies primarily to stock images and more critical assignments.

Therefore, my strategy for purchasing lenses has changed for the better - pro glass to be more specific. With FX bodies on the rise, I expect to be shooting in that format within a year or two, so it was decisionmaking time regarding any new glass I would acquire. As a result, I have added two of the best zooms Nikon makes to my stable while shedding a handful of older DX and AI samples. They will perform beautifully on my current D300 and D40 DX bodies until I begin to acquire an FX body.

D200 with 14-24/2.8 Nikkor

A few 'for sale' posts were setup in photography forums this month to sell off my 18-70 Nikkor, 10-20 Sigma, a 35/2 AI Nikkor and an even older 135/28 AI'd Q Nikkor. (I've already liquidated other older lenses like the 180/2.8 AI, 70-300 ED and several pre-AF-S DX consumer zooms.) These recent sales netted me half the cash needed to finance my latest pro zoom, the new 14-24/2.8 G ED AF-S IF Nikkor. (When I realized the cost difference of just $300 between it and the otherwise excellent 17-55/2.8 DX Nikkor, it was a no-brainer.) As a new standard in superwide performance, this FX design effectively obsoletes the 14mm Nikkor prime, making this pro zoom a valid substitiute for all previous designs. Combined with the new 24-70/2.8 VR and 70-200/2.8 VR models, you have a full range of focal lengths that offer excellent wide open performance, high AF speed and top optical results under any circumstances.

This decision came on the heels of my first pro glass buy earlier this year - the 70-200/2.8G ED AF-S IF VR Nikkor - likely the most popular and first pro glass choice by most amateur/semipro shooters. Everyone seems to have one. Nothing prepared me for the image and build quality of this classic midrange tele. VR technology enables handheld or monopod shooting for much greater flexibility and response to imaging opportunities. And the wide open performance extends the use of lower ISO's under lower light levels. To my surprise, it also works beautifully with my $125 Kenko 1.4 Pro Teleconverter producing perfectly sharp images while retaining all lens functions.

This trend toward FX-ready optics is being followed by many forum participants who have run the course of prosumer glass and are also looking to the future now in their lens choices. If you never intend to graduate to an FX body, this is not necessary for producing excellent images - Nikon makes a number of DX zooms worthy of your attention. Several I like include the 17-55, 16-85 VR , and 70-300 VR. Although optically slower and offering lower performance wide open, they are more than sufficient for well lit subjects and flash photography.

Make no mistake - FX pro glass is an investment and any choices should be made with more care than we may have used with our DX choices. But each one is also a keeper - prized optics that will serve for a lifetime as we move into the FX format and offer a greater return over time.

10.5/2.8 Fisheye Nikkor

In addition to adding these two jewels to my kit, I became enamored with Nikon's 10.5/2.8G ED AF-D DX Fisheye Nikkor - a fullframe design with speed and sharpness to boot. Fortunately, I managed to acquire a perfect, used sample for 2/3 of the retail cost, making my potentially last DX lens purchase even sweeter. Presenting a whole new perspective on composition, I spent an exploratory afternoon shooting in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, which you can view here: A Fisheye View of Knoxville.