In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series I explained the major technical advantages of a camera like the Nikon D200 over my point-and-shoot camera. However, all of these advantages are common to the entire Digital SLR camera design. I haven’t yet explained why I want a D200 rather than one of the other Digital SLRs.
Before I do that, one of the comments to Part 2 makes me realize I should point out that I don’t actually have one of these cameras. This is all just my fantasy of what such a camera will do for me. I think, however, that it is a well-researched and realistic fantasy.
Canon and Nikon.
I don’t know enough about cameras to evaluate all the features and performance of all the DSLR camera makers. After a bit of research, however, it’s clear that Canon and Nikon are the major players in the Digital SLR market. I’m sure that many of the other camera makers—Olympus, Fujifilm, Kodak, Pentax, Konica-Minolta, Sigma—make fine cameras. The Olympus E-1 and Fujifilm Finepix, for example, both have good word-of-mouth.
What they don’t have, however, is the gigantic user base of Canon and Nikon. Whether I’m looking for advice, reviews, or third-party accessories, the enormous number of Nikon and Canon owners has attracted a very large crowd of helpful people.
Basically, I’m following the herd. I’m not a professional photographer, so I’m not going to be amassing a collection of camera bodies. This is probably the last camera I’ll buy for at least 5 years. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be good enough. Canon and Nikon may or may not offer the most technically superior choices, but they are the safest choice.
Canon or Nikon?
Conventional wisdom from the world of film cameras has it that when you choose a camera maker, you don’t do so because of its cameras, but because of its lens system. Good lenses cost more than good camera bodies, and they tend to last a lot longer. Thus, photographers buy a camera, then a bunch of lenses for the camera they have, then another camera for the lenses they have, and so on. It just saves money to stay loyal to a lens system: If they bought a different camera, they’d have to buy all different lenses.
The other important point is that the camera itself has very little to do with picture quality: It’s the lenses that form the picture and the film that records it. The camera body just holds it all together in the dark and provides a shutter to let the light in. Film matters, but all 35mm cameras can use the same film, so it doesn’t affect your brand choice. The camera doesn’t matter. An expensive film camera is faster, tougher, more convenient, and more reliable, but it doesn’t take any better pictures. That leaves only the lenses.
The digital world is different. For one thing, the digital image sensor replaces the film and is just as important to image quality. It’s also one of the most costly parts of a digital camera. In the digital world, the camera is the film, and it’s important.
The other big difference is that digital cameras, like most electronic items, become obsolete quickly. A Fuji S1 Pro sold for $4000 five years ago, but only sells on eBay for about $450 now that a Nikon D50 will take better pictures faster for $800. That trend is likely to continue. Whatever digital camera I buy today will probably be worth only a few hundred dollars in five years when I’m ready for my next one.
On the other hand, film cameras and any kinds of lenses will probably be worth almost as much as their original purchase price. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the camera and lenses sell for more than their purchase price in inflated dollars. It’s almost like renting the equipment.
What this means to me is that I’m going to take such a huge depreciation loss on the camera that I’m not too concerned about the lenses. In other words, I’m not really buying a lens system after all, so choosing a brand isn’t as important as choosing a specific camera.
Why Not Film?
If a digital camera costs so much to buy and is worth so little so soon, wouldn’t it make more economic sense to buy a film camera?
No. Not for me. I’ve taken 11,000 photos so far with my Z3 camera. That’s the equivalent of about 300 rolls of film. At $5 per roll, that’s $1500, or about half again as much as my entire camera outfit. If I take another 11,000 photos next year, that’s another $1500.
And that’s just the cost of the unexposed film. If I want to see the pictures, I have to have the film developed at a cost of another $5 per roll, essentially doubling the cost. In one year of shooting digital, I’ve saved $3000—enough to buy a complete Nikon D200 outfit, including lens, flash, and memory card.
Maybe more. After all, developing 35mm film doesn’t include the cost of making prints. On the other hand, I have to pay for prints of digital images too. On another hand, I can view digital prints on my computer for free. On yet one more hand, the film costs were based on cheap slide film; negatives with proof prints would push the cost of film up toward $5000.
Then again (I have so run out of hands), if I had to pay that much to take pictures, I probably wouldn’t have taken 11,000 of them. I would have been more careful. That would save some money at the cost of less experience taking pictures.
Some people would say that taking a smaller number of more careful pictures would make me a better photographer. I say that increasing the amount of work per picture and making me wait a day or more to see the results would have made me give up the hobby after the first week.
I’m not sure how to account for any of this, so I’ll just ignore it.
Now About Choosing a Nikon D200…?
I’ve managed to get so sidetracked discussing the economics of all this that I think I’ll put off the D200 specifics for another post. People who know me well probably saw that coming.
Update: Part 4 is up.