My style, my clients and my way of working have changed a lot since I started out as a professional photographer about eight years ago … and so has technology. Therefor I started a major gear bag audit a couple of months ago. I thought I’d share my thought process with you in a couple of blog posts. In earlier post I’ve talked about my main camera system: X-Pro1, and my three part review of the X-E1 (part 1, part 2 and part 3).
The Fujifilm kit does everything I need for the majority of my work but there are some gaps. In the future I want to own less gear and rent whatever I need. That means that I don’t need to own my current big DSLR setup but I’m not sure yet if I can NOT own a DSLR anymore. There are practical issues and then there’s the fear of getting rid of a lot of stuff that I’ve used for so long. So why do I want to get rid of (most of) my Canon stuff in the first place? It’s already paid for, right? Let’s get this straight: there’s nothing wrong with my Canon kit and it still works perfectly fine. Selling it would free up some cash to make new investments that I currently can’t / don’t want to do. I’m not the kind of big shot photographer that can just buy whatever he wants without repercussions. Another thing is that I want to work less and live more. I’m sick of working just to buy new gear, so I promised myself not to invest in any more gear unless I sell something else. I just need to be sure that I got the gear to do the job and that’s why I wanted to test the Nikon D600 with the Nikor 28-300 lens.
This is not a general review, it’s very specific for my situation and needs. I’ll talk you through my thought process and findings between the next pictures.
The people from Nikon Belgium were so kind to borrow me a D600 and the 28-300 for a couple of weeks of testing. I picked it up on my way to Kobe’s football practice and decide to put it to the test immediately. It’s not even a fair test because I was shooting with an unfamiliar camera and a compromise lens, handheld in a situation that would even be challenging for top of the range equipment. The lowest possible ISO I could use was 6400 and as soon as the last natural light was gone, I had to go up even higher. To my surprise the D600 + 28-300 produced usable and consistent images in these challenging circumstances.
By the way, that’s not noise in the image below. It was just pouring rain and this was shot in almost darkness.
Being a long time Canon user, I had to adapt a bit to working with a Nikon but that went pretty fast and easy. After a week, I was quite comfortable with operating the D600. The thing I struggled with most is that the zoom ring on Nikon lenses works inverse compared to the Canon lenses. But all-in-all the transition was pretty painless. The D600′s body is on the small side but it sat good in my hands. All the buttons and dials are logically laid out just like the menu system. And the whole thing seemed pretty rugged and sturdy.
The major things I’m missing in the Fuji’s is the availability of long lenses and fast action (continuous) autofocus. So I focussed most of my testing on those two things and shot two of Kobe’s football games as these provide plenty of fast action and usually it occurs quite far from my position. If I were a sports shooter, this camera/lens combination wouldn’t be my choice but I’m not a sports shooter and I have no intention to be one. It’s just that I like to test gear in a more challenging conditions then I will generally shoot in. If the gear holds it’s own in a worst case scenario, I’m sure it will be great in the actual conditions I will use it in.
The autofocus performed really well despite the fast moving subjects and a lens that’s not really build for speed. Sure I missed some shots but not too many. I would have liked to have the focus points to be spread out over the whole frame instead of being concentrated around the middle but it didn’t bother me too much. But the AF is snappy and accurate even in difficult lighting situations.
So why the hell would I like to test a 10x super zoom? About everyone will tell you that super zooms are always a compromise in optical quality, focusing speed and maximum aperture. On top of that they are usually not build very well. I completely agree that the laws of physics always make a super zoom a compromise but the question is: Is it an ACCEPTABLE compromise?
Of course, it will all depend on your photography and the job. So keep in mind that:
- Most of my work is done with the Fuji kit which has great lens options for the standard focal lengths
- My budget is limited
- I don’t want to carry around more gear than I need
- Most of the time this camera/lens will be used during workshops or personal work
- I can rent pretty much any pro Nikon lens only 15 minutes from where I live at affordable rates thanks to Nikon’s Catch and Release rental service.
A couple of years ago I don’t think a super zoom would have been an option but technology evolves and opens up new possibilities. The maximum aperture (3.5 – 5.6) of the 28-300 definitely makes the lens slower that my L-zooms. With my 5D mark II and L-glass I usually had enough light for handheld reportage photography without flash. I would go up to iso 3200 when really necessary. But in the mean time high ISO capabilities have definitely improved. My completely unscientific research (actually it’s just my gut feeling) indicates that the ISO capabilities of the D600 (and the newer Canons too) are around two stops better. Which basically cancels out the issue of a slower maximum aperture of the 28-300. Sure you could squeeze out even better images out of the D600 with a 24-70 or a 70-200. But when I should need it, I can rent those lenses.
For the fans of a shallow depth of field (consider me a member of the fan club), a slower lens is definitely not ideal but I got my fast Fujinon glass for that. And at 300mm and f/5.6 you don’t have that much DOF.
The Nikor 28-300 is pretty well built. It feels like it could handle some serious (ab)use. It may not be as sturdy as L-glass or the equivalent Nikor glass but it’s definitely not cheap stuff. The lens extends quite far when zooming in and the shift in balance caused by zooming in and out was a minor distraction but I guess you get over it after a while. The lens hood doesn’t attach very well to the lens and it fell off a couple of times when I had the camera hanging around my shoulder.
You definitely get vignetting and distortion with this lens but the standard lens profile corrections in Lightroom seems to handle those issues very well. In most images I even had to ADD some vignetting. So I personally think this lens in combination with clever software produces more than acceptable results in most situations. The image stabilization (or VR) works as expected and definitely makes the lens a lot more usable in low light.
Extra bonus points for the D600 + 28-300 come from the fact that Stacy likes shooting with it too. She’s not an experienced or trained photographer so I wouldn’t rely on her as a second shooter (although I rely on her for many other things). But she has a good eye for capturing moments and since she sometimes comes with me as an assistant anyway, she picks up a camera every now and then. The metering on the D600 is pretty good, so she can get away with it in Aperture Priority mode. Everything she captures is a nice bonus. Although in the case of the next picture, the word “bonus” might not be the best way to describe the picture.
The RAW images out of the D600 might not be as crisp as those out of the Fuji’s but they are really nice and give you quite a bit of latitude in both the highlights and the shadows. Take a look at the picture below. On the left is the image straight out of camera. On the right is the same image with a couple of Lightroom adjustments.
So I’m pretty positive about this camera/lens combination. However, sometimes there’s some really weird distortion going on:
The main idea behind considering getting a D600 with a super zoom is a question of safety. I just want to be sure that I have all the equipment with me to do the job right. Most of the time I know what I’m getting into and I know I can cover it with my Fuji kit. If not, I can rent whatever else I need. But sometimes you just don’t have a clue what you will walk into. And it’s for those (granted, rare) cases that I consider bringing a small but versatile DSLR kit. Like on the first shoot of my hunting project, last Sunday. I had never joined a group of hunters before, so I only had a vague idea of what to expect. The other thing is that I didn’t want to be scaring away the pigeons. A super zoom is handy in those cases. I would have been very happy to work with two Fuji bodies with a standard zoom on one body and a long lens on the other. The problem is that these lenses aren’t available yet. In the mean time a DSLR is my only choice.
I’m not much of a landscape photographer but the beautiful scenery and dramatic light in combination with the 28-300 made it easy to make some halfway decent shots. Shooting at f/22 is something I almost never do, but I did for the above picture and noticed later that the sensor was incredibly dirty. I spent at least 10 minutes cloning out the dust bunnies. The guys from LensRentals.com have found that the D600 seems to be more sensible to sensor dust than the higher end Nikon DSLRs. The camera I was using was a test camera and those are often so abused that you can’t really compare it to normal use so I can’t comment on how bad this “issue” is. If I should decide to get a D600, it certainly wouldn’t be a deal breaker. I’d just check for dust a bit more often than usual.
I like working with prime lenses because they force me to think and work more deliberate. I’m pretty flexible and don’t mind zooming with my feet. But sometimes you can’t just move wherever you want. These hunters spend a fortune on green clothing, camo nets and are willing to hide themselves in muddy corn fields only to get the pigeons to come close enough for a shot. You will understand that me moving around all the time would not help their hunt. So I tried to stay out of their way, after all, they are the ones with the guns.
I’m still not sure that I will buy a D600 with the 28-300. It is still a big investment for a camera that I would only use occasionally. I don’t even know that I will still keep a DSLR. But that has little to do with the D600 nor the 28-300 lens. Both perform exceptionally well, certainly if you take into account that they are pretty affordable. To me the D600 isn’t just an entry-level full frame camera. I think it’s perfectly ok as a professional camera for general use. I wouldn’t buy the 28-300 as my main lens for professional use. But I could certainly live with 2-3 great primes in my most used focal lengths and a 28-300 to fill in the gaps.
I still have lots of questions to answer before I can finalize my new gear setup but at least I found the answer to one question: Renting Nikon gear is a viable option since it works pretty well for me even after years of shooting Canon.