The Switch

Nikon D300 and New CameraPhotography, as I have always said, is an endeavour that blends the technical with the artistic. There are very few other arts that have as much science in it as the art. Not surprisingly, it is one that attracts a wide range of people, from those who spend more time gazing on MTF charts and shooting brick walls than actually doing photography, to those who pursue the next big thing, even if it is nothing more than the Emperor’s New Clothes. Cold clinical rationalism to pretentious subjective irrationality. Photography has it all.

Similarly, when it comes to photography gear, the same range of people apply. There will be people who look at specifications sheets and declare a “winner”, nevermind if the camera requires a virgin sacrifice daily before it will work. There will be people who use (and happily pay for) cameras held together by duct tape using a lens salvaged from the porthole of the RMS Titanic, thinking they are creating art.

I personally consider myself to be more middle of the road. Both sides influence me, and when I made a decision recently, the influences were certainly present.

I have been making photographs for nearly twenty years, the last twelve with a Nikon of one kind of another. While I have not always been doing photography all the time, the Nikons have represented some of the more productive and satisfying times, even during a somewhat darker period when Canon and their CMOS sensors were trouncing Nikon’s Sony-sourced sensors.

Of late, I felt it was time to move on. While I am fairly content with my current DX system, which covers focal lengths from 11mm to 300mm at f/2.8, and a bit more with teleconverters, something has been gnawing at me. Irrational Me says, it is time for something new! It will be fun!

The scary thing is, Rational Me tends to be easily dragged by Irrational Me if I am not careful. In fact, it was not too hard to find a list of facts that have started to bother me. The fact that 12 megapixels is starting to be the lower limit of stock submissions. The fact that sensors have improved since the D300, good as it was when it came out. That ISO 3200 is problematic to use – it is not just a one stop noisier version of ISO 1600. My right knee, which gave occasional problems, has been getting worse, and while I am still considered young, I felt I wanted something more portable. I wanted to dabble in video, something the D300 does not do.

HDB Flats, Singapore, with Moon in background

So, during this period of Nikon ascendency, with cameras like the highly-rated D800, how about switching to FX? The D800 creates beautiful high resolution files with great dynamic range at low ISOs, and can do very good high ISO when needed.

Irrational Me loves the idea. Rational Me likes it too, but Rational Me happens to be in charge of the finances as well. Nikon FX f/2.8 zoom lens prices? Eep. There is that knee issue as well. Idea dead in the water then.

So what next? Nikon has not come up with a true replacement for the D300, despite it being some six years old by now, and more importantly, the DX lineup seems to have been relegated to second class status while FX gets the lion’s share of new lens development. In fact, as I am writing this, Nikon announced that the latest DX lens is yet another kit-like zoom. Irrational Me does not want to wait. NEW THINGS NOW.

Normally that line of thought gives rise to the worst kind of decisions made. Stories of photographers who get emotionally charged over some discontent purchase gear or switch systems, waste thousands of dollars, and in the end get little benefit are not hard to find. Ultimately, I hope in time to come, the switch is not something I ultimately regret.

So what have I settled on? Well, both Rational and Irrational Me really like those mirrorless systems, and it just so happens there is currently one mirrorless system that is close to being a full system: Micro Four Thirds. Given my preference for large cameras (my D300’s grip is always attached), and my want to explore video, it also meant there really was always going to be only one choice there: The Panasonic Lumix DMW-GH3.

Singapore CBD

Thanks to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Abenomics, it also meant the cost of switching systems have been at an all time low. For less than the price of a professional grade f/2.8 zoom for 35mm systems, I was able to obtain the lovely Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 and 7-14mm f/4 lenses.

Late last month, I committed to the switch and bought the GH3 kit with the 12-35mm f/2.8. Again, that was just about the price of a f/2.8 professional zoom lens.

The switch has not been totally seamless. Micro Four Thirds does not have a proper long telephoto lens, which is something I use a fair amount of. The Panasonic 7-14 has that bulbous front element that makes putting filters on a nightmare. Getting an L-bracket has been an exercise in frustration, no thanks to Panasonic and their boneheaded decision to put the tripod mount off-centre and way too far to the right on the DMW-BGGH3, the GH3’s vertical grip.

But so far? Rational and Irrational Me are satisfied. No one has complained about my deliverables. I have been having a lot of fun. While making photographs. And maybe ultimately, that is what really matters.




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