Does The Upgrade Treadmill Do Much?

We all get sucked in. Even a curmudgeon like me. Does all of our convolutions and hard-won money spent pursuing better cameras really net us much? In many cases it's actually a step backwards. Even if you somehow get something really better it goes along with something a little worse. In all cases it's a giant distraction while you get to know the new device, software, imaging characteristics, etc, etc.

I ran across a few images I haven't seen in years and years today while looking for something else. A few of them caught my eye but were a bit, ummmm… over the NSFW in a kind really big way so I substituted some other StupidCrap™ for this post. I shot them with a camera that I considered somewhere in the OK category. Not great - not bad - functional. My lowly old Nikon D200. I bought two of them to replace my annexed/lost/stolen/waylaid D2x bodies that I had purchased only a year prior.

The image at the top was shot as some stupid demonstration for a workshop I was hosting at the time. It's a crappy image meant to show some participants why you might want to spend big bucks on Profotos with a really short flash duration back then. See the motion blur in the hand and hair? That's 1/750s flash duration. It's a shitty image due to the fact that it's meaningless, has no context, a whacked out expression, and meaningless gesture/movement. Oh and I didn't bother framing well it or pressing the button to capture anything but the subject moving quickly.

Note the shitty-ness has nothing to do with my gear or the D200. In fact it did a pretty decent job under controlled lighting condtions at base ISO. Heck that's a horizontal crop out of a 10 megapixel vertical composition. I tend not to use those much on the web. I could make images in a studio or being really careful with this camera all day that would meet just about any commercial requirement. No shit.

What about all the shit we were supposed to get like a dozen "upgrades" later. Let's not count "full-frame" because that's mostly a lens issue that Nikon or Canon never really delivered on giving us a decent set of stuff for DX that they promised. Heck a fast normal of 1.8 only recently became available.

Well here's a random shot I made to sell some shit on craig's list in ambient conditions at high ISO…

Yea if you look really really close there is some noise - so what. If you think that is what is causing all your "bad images" you need a wake-up call in a big way. Here's another.

My main issues with that camera were…

  • They moved the "corner" AF points in towards the center - not too far different than the Canon 5D Mark2. WTF - who the hell needs them there. Not me for sure - I liked the D2X and D2H focus point pattern way better. It sort of made those corner points that are now not in the corner kind of useless. Okay back to using the center point only.
  • The ISO was not really the ISO. It was probably 1/3 of a stop slow at 100 and got progressively worse as you went up the scale. Like a whole stop slower at 400/800. That sucked. Kind of like my Fuji X-series cameras now. They are 2/3 stop slower at each ISO than my D600.
  • My 12-24 lens and only that lens back-focused never to be resolved. I hated that lens for just this reason on the D200.

Now 1600 is not "high ISO" by today's standards but really do you actually shoot a lot in the dark? Are you using a slow zoom - like a 2.8. Let's not even talk about worse. Easy problem to fix. Just use a 50 1.4 or something. So I wasn't really asking for more better ISO. Is it better now? For sure. Do I make better images due to that? Nope. Here's another high ISO - all of these sans NR just OOC in Aperture.

Do the "files" compare to new cameras? Under a microscope no - in the real world? Sure with one caveat - you have to actually shoot them right in the first place. At least somewhat more so than newer cameras. Newer cameras have more flexibility if you need to bash the hell out of them in post. Do bashed up/beat up/stepped on files out of a new camera look somehow better than a decent exposure from the lowly D200? No friggin way. Here's one more high ISO stupid snap…

The D200 was a great camera as cameras go - forget the sensor for a moment. It was/is a reasonable size. True pro-build quality. Great handling - just like all pro Nikons. It was reasonably fast etc, etc. I will bet you mine still works - sold it off a long time ago. Wonder what it's making pictures of now?

What does all this horse-trading of gear get us? The treadmill. Is my Fuji X100S far far better than my D200? Not really. Does it produce "better" OOC JPEG's? Not really. It produces better OOC JPEG's than say my D600 depending on what you mean by "better". Mostly because I really dislike Nikon's Picture Control settings - I like the pre-picture control cameras better for the most part. Now they are all very very consistent and look very "digital".

I can say a lot of money is spent - my own included - to get nowhere. If you at all take this endeavor seriously there is a getting-to-know you period where all those better things may actually produce "worse" images overall. Either because you are fiddling a bit more or you have to get used to the imaging characteristics in your post-production and where they start out compared to where you want to go, etc, etc.

Just food for though. If you look at the images you make with old gear one of two things will happen. You may be disgusted but is that really the gear? Maybe you are just better at making images now. The other thing that might happen is you see that all the "better-ness" that first sparkled your eye is really not that far off from what you had before - even a couple of generations ago. Assuming you have the same class of camera.


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