As you may remember I picked up a Nikon D700 a couple weeks ago with the intention of seeing whether or not I was missing something distinct or magical from the old days. Was there something in the older cameras that was basically right but then got ameliorated by our mindless lust for resolution? I've had lots of other stuff on my mind but I've been systematically mixing the D700 and some vintage Nikon lenses into my work mix (golf pro last week, studio portrait of doctor this week) and today I had time to step away from work, and family administration, and just go for a walk with the camera and one lens. The lens I chose today was the 85mm f1.8 AF-D lens. It's a lens many of us have owned, either in the digital age or in the days of autofocus film Nikons, and it has a solid reputation as being fairly good at the wider apertures and very good at f5.6 and beyond. It's one of the noisy autofocusing lenses that uses a little screwdriver drive cam to move the lens elements. Being an older prime it has no image stabilization.
In contrast to the mirrorless cameras and lenses I normally use the D700 feels at least twice as heavy and the lens is heavier that the Sony counterpart as well. It always takes me a while to dial in my subconscious understanding that the image in the finder is NOT what the final image will look like once it's been through the exposure and digital processing chain so chimping is a more frequent practice in actual use, as is making iterative exposure and color adjustments.
All in all the camera and lens are well balanced and fairly compact (especially compared to the D2XS) and they didn't constitute any real burden over the course of a two hour walk through an urban landscape.
I'm always surprised when I get back home from a walk with a vintage camera. I think I am expecting a much more primitive or less complex file with which to work. But lately, with either the D700 or the D2XS, I am surprised at just how modern, detailed and rich the files I'm getting seem to look. I did a color check with a vector scope on the Atomos monitor and in the "neutral" profile setting the colors were remarkably accurate. Much more so than similar test shots done on a much newer Sony A7Rii. Kind of amazed that two cameras that are each over ten years old nailed the basic color science to a more accurate degree than a much more recent generation competitor. Almost makes me want to try the same test with a Canon 5D mk2.....
I shot mostly at f3.5 and was surprised to see again just how shallow depth of field is for that particular optic when combined with a full frame sensor.
How well have I filled out my (totally) vintage Nikon system? Well, I always want two bodies so I have a useful back-up that takes the same lenses, so I have the D700 and the D2XS. I like the color and file depth (richness) out of both of them. They both need more sharpening than the current cameras I am used to but once post processed from RAW they look very competitive if I stay in the native file sizes. I'm guessing the need for more sharpening comes from the use of stronger anti-aliasing filters that were required because of the lower pixel resolution and the danger of moire.
Here are the lenses I have sourced to date (all locally, from Precision Camera): the 24mm f2.8 AF-d, the 28mm f2.8 ais (manual focus), the ancient 35-70mm f3.5 ai lens, the 55mm f2.8 ais micro lens, the 85mm f1.8 AF-d lens, the 105mm f2.5 ais lens and finally, the 70-210mm f4.0-5.6 AF zoom lens (which I have owned before and found to be quite good; it's a push pull design with auto-focusing).
Were I just starting out I believe I could handle most photo oriented jobs with just this small assemblage of gear. While none of it is "stellar" (with perhaps the exception of the 105mm) it's all very workable and all the bodies and lenses deliver acceptable results. No one will write home to glorify the high ISO performance of the D2XS but isn't that why the photo gods invented flash?
Will this assemblage morph and grow to replace the Panasonic GH5s and assorted lenses? Not likely. The Panasonic collection is too insanely good at video to even think of jettisoning. And it does a better job in most respects for still imaging than either of the ancient Nikons. If I were to consider a switch I'd have to give the D850 a workout, only for its potentially good 4K video performance. But then I'd be back down the rabbit hole spending more on individual lenses than I've spent so far on my entire collection of old, used stuff. Total system expenditure so far for the vintage Nikon collection is less than $1800. The flip side of that reality is that either camera could give up the ghost at any moment and would cost more to revive than to replace.... The 55mm micro already is showing intermittent signs of sticky aperture blades; a known flaw.
Whether or not owning the aging Nikon gear is sensible is something I'll leave to each of you. I love the nostalgia of it and the surety of it when I use it within its performance envelope. They are not, in this day and age, anywhere near the ultimate performers but then again they are not nearly as far behind as I would have imagined before going back and re-testing. See the images for more subjective evaluation.
If I were starting out, young and broke, today I think a couple of D700s or Canon 5Dmk2s and a handful of older lenses would be the best use of limited funds for me. And a useful introduction into the basic work life of most photography. It's an interesting option versus newer and more consumer oriented base model cameras, and certainly more cost effective than some of the mirrorless options out on the market. Sure, there's no video and no EVF but $$$ for $$$ this old stuff is as basic as a good hammer. It's usable and gets the job done. You can always ask for more, the question is whether you really need it or just want it.
Funny, Austin is an MSA (metropolitan survey area) with nearly 2 million people and yet there was almost no one on the streets of downtown today. I guess they were all hunkered down in coffee shops, fearful of the rain and the chilly 70 degree temperatures....
The last remnants of "old" Austin. A window A/C unit at the #1 Fire Station.