Should I buy a full frame camera or stick with aps-c? This is a dilemma I’ve been struggling with for awhile. Unlike most photo nerds, I hate buying new gear. It rarely improves my photography and doesn’t add value to my business. When I need full frame gear for a big job, I simply rent it.
For my local work and most of the images on this blog, I use a Nikon D90. It may be old, but it’s still a fantastic camera. In fact, it’s even better today than it was in 2009. With the amazing advances in RAW processing software, the camera has actually gained a stop of dynamic range!
Should I Upgrade to Full Frame?
If I love this camera so much, why am I considering upgrading?
The required baseline file size for client delivery has changed and I need something with at least 16mp. Does this mean that my current files are lousy? Of course not. I shot the above image of Mondo in 2010 with the D90 and it’s as good today as it was back then. I could print this 40’x60″ and not even break a sweat.
The problem is one of perception. Unlike the days of film, cameras are now a consumer electronic product with an expiration date.
FX vs DX
A few years ago, fx vs dx wasn’t even a debate. Full-frame cameras were clearly superior to any aps-c(dx) cameras on the market. The first time I used a full frame D700, I was blown away by its dynamic range and high ISO capabilities.
Of course that was 2009 and since then, sensor tech has made huge advances. The current crop of Nikon aps-c cameras actually outclass the amazing D700. Full frame sensors have also made advances, but aps-c cameras have nearly closed the gap. I always thought I was going to upgrade to a full frame Nikon, but I’m now questioning that assumption. Here’s why:
Size: Even with the newer and lighter mirrorless cameras, professional full frame lenses are huge. The new Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8 weighs 1070g! I understand the need for tough professional glass, but these optics are now larger than medium format lenses. With a Nikon D7200, I can drop on the incredible Nikkor 16-80mm f/2.8-4 that weighs a svelte 480g and call it a day.
Price: I don’t want to pay $3300 for a D810. I know I should just suck it up, but for this kind of cash, I can go out and buy an iphone, ipad, and Macbook Pro. Unlike the film days where I could keep my camera for a decade, the D810 will depreciate faster than a luxury car. If I combine this camera with the Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8, I’m now out $5700 just to take some cookie shots.
Lenses: If I was going to stick with DX for one reason alone, it would be my 60mm macro lens. It’s an optically perfect lens and one of the best pieces of glass Nikon makes. On an aps-c sensor it has an effective focal range of 90mm which makes it perfect for food photography. If I were to go full frame, I would switch to the Nikkor 105mm macro, but it just doesn’t have the stunning character of the 60mm.
Image Quality: I supervise a college photo lab and see hundreds of prints and files every year. Spotting the difference between different formats of film is easy, but trying to identity the various formats of digital is nearly impossible. It used to be simple when digital cameras were primitive, but nearly all modern digital cameras are capable of producing astonishingly good prints.
The image quality of the latest generation of Nikon DX cameras is incredible. It beats Canon full-frame cameras and according to DxOmark, the D7200 has the widest dynamic range of any camera ever produced except the d810. I’ve worked with the D7200 and the ability to push and pull exposure is remarkable.
If I was a shooter who needed to capture professional action in low light, I would need a full frame camera. The format excels at high ISO. But I’m a guy who hasn’t moved the camera above ISO 800 in the last decade. For me, a full frame camera doesn’t hold much of an image advantage.
The choice is simple. I’m going to buy a D7200. I don’t need a full-frame camera and if I do, I’ll go out and rent one. The D7200 is a highly capable and mature camera. It feels good in the hands and the size and price are unbeatable. I may lose out on bragging rights to the latest and greatest system, but I win with an incredible camera that perfectly fits my needs.