FF vs DX

Started Jan 12, 2013 | Discussions thread
anotherMike Veteran Member • Posts: 8,999
Re: FF vs DX

These are always difficult decisions. Going FX is going to mean some outlay of cash, and since I don't know you or your style/experience/preferences, it's a tough call, right? So the only thing I can do is give you two examples of why I personally think FX is the best choice for BOTH an experienced photographer AND a beginner, but within the context of that photographer photographing a wider range of tasks than just scenic landscape and also being able to afford the move to FX. Obviously it would be better to have a decent DX kit with nice lenses than a D600 with one lens, right?

I'll start with myself. I'm extremely experienced and very technically astute. I've shot most Nikon DSLRS since 2003 when I switched over from film, so my DX experience is the D100, D70, D2X, D80, D300, D90 and D7000, and my FX experience is the D700 and D800E, and I've evaluated but do not own (yet, I expect to some day) a D600. I shoot some landscape but also a lot of studio/art personal work which is a mixture of fashion, sensuality, and movement. My studio work is not static - the models are almost constantly moving. What I'm about to type is really important and it keys in why I can't stand DX, and why. For ME, the most critical thing in my studio work is to get the shot. That trumps dynamic range, sharpness, flare resistance, having the coolest camera, and everything else. And to ME, "getting the shot" means two things: me being able to SEE the shot when it arrives (my subjects are moving) AND react properly to the moment in time, AND the camera being able to react properly and capture the shot. Where DX has let me down compared to FX, which hasn't let me down, is very much squarely within the discussion of getting the shot. With FX, you have a bigger/brighter/better viewfinder - and don't under-estimate this - it allows me to SEE what is happening in front of me. This to me is HUGE. I don't like liveview for this sort of thing - I want an optical viewfinder. I find the artistic quality of my work IMPROVED when I moved away from my D300/D7000 combo and went to the D700 (not to mention the technical aspects also improving) because I could see and react to what was happening in front of me. Now - obviously someone who is strictly a landscape photographer may feel differently - they are possibly using live view exclusively or they don't care about looking through what I deem is the miserable viewfinder present on every single DX camera out there. So hence it does, I think, come down to what YOU deem important.

That's the "see/react" part of the equation. The next thing which to me is lacking on the current DX line of Nikons is that none of them have a pro grade really good AF system. The last one that did was the now-aging D300. The D7000 has a much, much nicer sensor than the D300, but man, I HATED that body in the studio. LOUSY AF accuracy in low light (and I tested the hell out of it as I test for a living), and between that and the smaller viewfinder, I found that body, while obviously having a nice sensor, just a total abysmal failure as a TOOL that I could use to make my imagery. I hope that makes sense - for ME, the ability to react/see AND my requirement that the body AF properly and repeatedly to a decent degree was NOT met by the D7000 meant it wasn't the camera for me, while of course someone only doing landscape work might love the D7000.  So in my view, the DX lineup is in sore need of a better AF body, and I think 2013 will be the year for such a beast, and then the folks who prefer DX for some reason I think will be much happier. Obviously even with a proper AF system, you're still looking through a smaller viewfinder - so even if Nikon comes up with a killer D400 DX camera, it still won't be my preferred option. Notice I'm not even going to begin to discuss the technical advantages of FX over DX in this post  - I'm talking strictly usability here.

That's me. I have a friend up north, a straight up amateur of limited skill. Still doesn't understand what probably 90% of the people here get, so he's far from a pro or a skilled amateur. For years he used a D70 and then a D200. He's retired and not rich, so he struggled with the decision to go FX. Most here or the DX forum would strongly urge him to stick with DX. He shoots a variety of things, from the occasional bit of theater or gymnastics of his grandkids, to some portraits to some small group shots. He never shoots landscape. He finally saved up enough to get a D700. To say he's ecstatic would be an understatement. I asked him why he loved the camera so much and without any prompting he told me two things: One, that he can SEE through the viewfinder (hmmmm, where have I heard that before?) and he felt the camera just reacted better to what he needed to shoot, and that the AF system was much better than anything he used before. The interesting thing is that he test-drove a D7000 from another friend before making the FX decision. He didn't care much for the D7000. Secondly, he obviously recognized that sensor performance had come a long way from the D200. I find it highly interesting that a guy who has 1/10th the technical skill of most of this forums participants immediately found the one huge advantage to FX without ever being prompted as why he would feel that way. Perhaps this a lesson that is missed by many who get caught up in the DX argument...

Now - the big question of course always comes down to the coin. Within the larger goal of trying to improve ones photography, one has to be realistic about where, amongst many areas, they spend the money wisely. If one is a landscape photographer, one might be better off using money intended for a D600 and a few FX lenses to be able to go on 2 more landscape trips in a season if they feel, for example, that they aren't going out and shooting enough. Perhaps a beginner fashion photographer might be better off hiring a few REALLY good pro models for a few shoots to see the difference between their best friends daughter and a pro. Or perhaps spending money on a seminar to learn how to light, or how to post process, would be a better investment than buying more gear or changing formats just because it's cool or I myself like it better.

DX exists simply because of cost - don't think for a minute it's anything else. If Nikon had been able to produce an FX DSLR in 2003 at the same price as the D100 when it came out (the first somewhat reasonably affordable consumer Nikon DSLR), they would have done it. DX bodies today are a reasonable balance compromise between performance, usability, and cost. The thing is, in my view, FX is going down in price to the point where it's not quite as insane to get one. So I think one also has to weight how important the "getting the shot" part of the equation, as I've explained it in this post, is to their own process - as stated before, a guy shooting landscape isn't as reliant on the "getting the shot" process that a larger viewfinder and better AF system would benefit them, but a guy shooting his son in soccer, his daughter in gymnastics, his cousin in ballet and doing general event work for church would. Therefore, anyone who is considering the DX vs FX I propose has to include this aspect as well. I know if I had to rely on a D7000 to do my own studio work I'd be supremely frustrated - I probably would have punted back to the noisier/gritty D300 I had at the time because it got the shot more reliably, but now that I've been FX for a couple of years, I can't go back - I've seen the difference the usability aspect makes, in addition to the technical aspects. But I totally understand why a landscape guy might think his DX kit is good enough for what he does too.


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