Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nikon Lenses - FX vs. DX

Nikon makes two categories of lenses for DSLRs - FX format and DX format.

The lens format is tied to the sensor format in the camera body. The FX sensor is full-frame, meaning the sensor itself is physically the same size as a frame of 35mm film (36mm wide x 23.9mm high). The FX sensor is built into the D3, D3X, and D700. The DX sensor is smaller in size (23.6mm wide x 15.8mm high), and comes in the smaller DSLR's: D300, D90, D80, D70, D60, D40.

The image coming through the lens must fit precisely onto the sensor, so that what you see in the viewfinder directly translates to what you see in the photo. Thus, the FX lenses are designed to project a larger image onto the larger FX sensor, while the DX lenses project a smaller image onto the smaller DX sensor. The glass is different so that the image you see in the viewfinder is configured larger or smaller when it hits the camera body. Probably the easiest way to tell an FX lens from a DX lens (aside from the fact it's labeled on the lens) is to turn the lens around and look at the rear element of the lens; the FX has larger glass in the rear, while the DX has smaller glass in the rear.

Nikon does offer flexibility, however. If you use an FX camera such as the D3, D3X, or D700 you can still use both FX and DX lenses. If you use an FX lens, you get the full-frame image at the full resolution the camera offers. If you use a DX lens, the camera will automatically crop the image to account for the smaller image being projected onto the sensor. You also get a reduction in resolution. This is because the image being projected onto the sensor from the lens, is actually smaller than the sensor itself. Basically the camera adjusts for the fact that the outer edges of the sensor are not receiving any light/image from the lens. Net takeaway - if you have an FX camera, you can use both types, but you lose resolution with a DX. So it makes more sense to use an FX lens.

On the other hand, if you're using one of the DX format cameras listed above, you can also use both FX and DX lenses, but with different results. If you use a DX lens, the image will be normal - normal size and normal resolution. If you use an FX lens, you still get the image you see in your viewfinder, but the focal length of the lens is magnified by 1.5x. So if you set the lens to 100mm, your image is actually 150mm focal distance. You will still get the exact image you see in the viewfinder, because the magnification happens through the lens, and thus through the viewfinder. This actually is a good thing, if you're hoping to extend your range for wildlife or sports. But it can be a bad thing, if you're trying to shoot wide-angle. For example, an 18mm focal length would effectively become 27mm because of the magnification factor. Bottom line - for a DX camera, you can use either format at full resolution. An FX lens helps with longer shots due to the magnification, but can hurt when it comes to wide-angle.

Perhaps the best comparison/explanation I've ever seen is embedded below. Big props to Lilkiwiguy87 for taking the time and trouble to put this together. While I can't necessarily vouch for the musical selection, I must say the video was very helpful as I was researching between the D300 vs. D700, and accompanying lenses.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nikon D700 - Totally Unbiased Review

I have finally upgraded to a "real" pro level camera body. The Nikon D700.

So, how's it going so far?

Well, I've been on two multi-day shooting trips, and shot a friend's band at a local gig, with the D700 since I got it. And to be perfectly honest, after a couple thousand clicks, I have to say...I just don't know if there are words to express how I feel about this camera.

I mean, I could use the word LOVE, but it would be a ridiculous understatement. Maybe if I wrote LOVE in a giant font it might come close. This camera is fantastic. Beyond fantastic. I've never been happier.

OK, I better leave it at that, just in case the Mrs. reads this. At least for now, the D700 still sleeps on the couch.

When I was shopping, I was considering the D300, which runs about $1500-$2000 for the body. However, once I started looking closer at the D700, the choice became clear. The D700 is a little more, priced at about $2500-$3000. I pulled out the ol' haggling tactics and actually got mine for less, at Samy's Camera here in Culver City, CA.

Yes it's more, but what you get for that increase is well worth the price:

- 12.1 Mgpx FX Full-Frame CMOS sensor (same sensor as the D3)
- EXPEED 14-bit RAW processing (same processor as the D3)
- ISO up to 25,600 (same as the D3)
- 3" 920,000 dot VGA color monitor (same as the D3)
- 51-point AF matrix (same as the D3)
- Active D-Lighting, Sensor Cleaning, 5+fps (same as the D3)

Do I sound like a broken record yet? Intentionally so....this camera is basically 80% (or more) of the D3 for like 50% of the price. And in some areas, it actually outperforms the D3.

Let me break it down this way. Here are a few reasons why I'm head over heels in love:

the gradients of greens and blues are much more like what the eye sees, due to the D700's increased color gamutthe D700 has a great ability to capture a wide range of contrast
the color and clarity are amazingthe D700 has the ability to capture highlights in the foreground while preserving detail in the background
the D700 can capture detail and color, even in low light and backlight situationsthe level of detail and the balance of light-dark is amazing