Equipment Thoughts 1

Winter’s Afternoon, West Kirby

Here’s a photography discussion I didn’t think I’d be having: should I switch away from Nikon full-frame cameras and lenses?

I’ve been a Nikon user since my early 20s when I bought a Nikon FG20 film camera. I think it was their entry level camera back in about 1982. That was replaced in 1996 with a Nikon F90X. My first digital Nikon was a D80, which I think was around 2004. Then in 2018 I went for the D7500 and only a year later I opted for the full-frame Z6, which is where I am now. I have other film equipment, but I want to focus on the digital equipment in this post. 

In terms of lenses for the Z6 I have Nikon F mount 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8. These are very heavy lenses. The only Z mount lens I have is the 24-70mm f/4 lens. I do have a Sigma 10-20mm lens, but technically it’s an APS-C lens, not full-frame. 

All of these lenses are very good. The Z6 is a very good camera. My main genre is landscape and when it comes to hill walking, that kit is too bulky and far too heavy to be a realistic option to take with me in a rucksack on a serious walk with all the other gear needed for a day in the mountains. The two F mount lenses weigh in around 1.5kg each. That is a lot of weight, even to carry just one of them in a rucksack for a day in the hills, is tough.

What are the options?

If you want the flexibility of a serious camera with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, there is only one option and that is to move to a smaller sensor size. The options are APS-C, which is about 2/3 the size of a full-frame, or micro four-thirds, which is half the size. 

The form factor of APS-C is more compact than full-frame, meaning less weight. The issue in the past has been lenses. You’ve always had professional glass available for full-frame cameras because they already existed for 35mm SLR film cameras, which are the same size. 

My Nikon D7500 was an APS-C format camera, but it was not a ‘pro’ body – it did not have a metal body, and it was not weather sealed to the level you expect on a ‘professional’ camera body. Whilst it was a good camera, it was not aimed at a pro user – it was definitely in the ‘enthusiast’ category. It was aimed at the serious amateur who was interested in photography, but not willing/able to pay the premium for ‘pro’ gear.  

Nikon used to have a more professional APS-C camera body in the D500, but since 2022 it is no longer made. What ‘pro’ camera bodies have is magnesium or titanium alloy bodies rather than plastic, and better weather sealing, so that exposure to bad weather isn’t going to wreck the camera.  

From that you can see that Nikon doesn’t seem to have a body that fits the requirement of having professional level construction and APS-C format. 

The other issue is lenses. As I said above, manufacturers had full-frame lenses from day 1 as they just carried on using their existing lenses. Those lenses have been upgraded over the years with better glass and other features. They didn’t already have the equivalent lenses for APS-C.

APS-C lenses can be smaller as they only need to illuminate a smaller sensor. Smaller lenses have two advantages: much less weight, and cheaper. The issue as I noted above is a lot of manufacturers don’t offer professional standard lenses in the APS-C format. Every major manufacturer offers the standard range of lenses for full-frame, e.g. the classic 70-200mm f/2.8. You will struggle to find the equivalent APS-C lens (c. 50-140mm f/2.8)   That has changed in recent years. Some manufacturers, e.g. Fuji, focus on APS-C size cameras and have a full range of professional and prime lenses for the format. They don’t make a full-frame camera: their larger cameras are medium format, not full-frame. 

Food for thought. The cost of changing camera eco systems is not inconsiderable.

The cost of a suitable camera and say three key lenses would be around £4k. Perhaps about £2k to p/x my kit, maybe a bit more. I would still have to find around £2k and there are additional costs, e.g. my flash trigger is dedicated to Nikon and would need replacing, etc. 

More thought needed.   

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