Last weekend I held my breath, handed over my much-loved Nikon SLR to a strange man and walked out of my local camera store with a new model. It’s something I have been doing roughly every two years since I started on my photography journey and I am finally wise enough to know that these steps along the road are necessary and inevitable and I no longer kid myself that every camera I buy is my last one!
For those of you who are debating your own upgrade or perhaps thinking about purchasing your first DSLR, I thought I’d share with you the story of the cameras I have owned, the photos they have taken and ultimately why I have upgraded each time….
2004 : Canon Ixus 500 (£279)
My first digital camera was not an SLR. I bought it from Amazon in 2004 and I literally used it as a point and shoot. The most adventurous thing I ever did with it was switch to “landscape” mode to get enhanced blue and green colours. Then one day I was sat on the terrace of our local pub trying to take a picture in the fading light and a stranger introduced me to something in the settings called “exposure compensation” and suddenly a world of potential opened up to me and I started to realise you could actually control (minimally at this stage) how photos turned out.
The 5 megapixel capability of the camera was fine at the time, but as you can see from the image below it didn’t produce the sharpest or clearest of images. I absolutely loved the Ixus with it’s stylish polished metal exterior and compact size, but eventually it was to be replaced by something a bit bigger…
2007 : Canon EOS 400D (£400)
Jim bought me my first SLR for Christmas 2007 when we were living in Canada. It came with an 18-55 kit lens which later on I grew to understand later was a pretty basic bit of glass. I did the classic beginner thing of rushing out and spending £200 on the longest lens I could buy (cause that’s cool right?) with no knowledge of what I was buying. I spent nearly all my time that I owned the Canon shooting in auto. Towards the end of the two years I had this camera for I joined a camera club in Cyprus and a whole world of aperture, raw files and manual settings opened up to me.
The picture below is one I took with the kit lens on auto (f/8.0) and I still thinking it’s a great photo.
I eventually upgraded from my Canon for two reasons. Firstly I was surrounded by people shooting with Nikons and talking about Nikons and the associated software and having the same kit made it easier to learn with them. Secondly I had started to have a limited understanding of the importance of RAW files, but my Canon wouldn’t allow me to take photos in RAW in the auto setting, which was all I was comfortable with at that stage.
2010 : Nikon D90 (£750)
In 2010 I sold everything I owned (flash, lenses, camera) and switched to Nikon. My first impression of the Nikon was that it had a really professional sounding shutter noise (simple pleasures!) and looked like a grown up camera. It came with an 18-105 lens which I kept for 6 years, but which I was very glad to see the back of towards the end when I realised it didn’t actually take such great photos.
I had my biggest period of photography growth while I was using my D90. I belonged to a great camera club and was living in sunny Cyprus with wonderful light, people who inspired me and good weather most of the year. Buying the D90 was also the beginning of a series of parallel upgrades that my sister and I have done. We now always have the same (or nearly the same) model as each other as it helps enormously when you can discuss the same camera and share the same kit.
I still had the D90 when I moved to Scotland and started experimenting with family photo sessions. I often heard the D90 being praised by people who used it for semi-pro work and certainly the photos it took along with my 85mm prime lens (as below) were great.
But of course it wasn’t perfect and after two years I started eying up the next model and wanting a camera with better low light performance…
2012 : Nikon D700 (£1000)
Somewhere along your photography journey, friends who are into cameras will start talking to you about full-frame sensors and how you amazing it is when you upgrade. For me this happened in 2012 and pushed along by a friend who knew someone who was selling his D700, I decide to make the big leap and sell my D90, but it did not go smoothly.
Only days after taking delivery of the camera it developed a fault with the shutter which rendered the camera unusable and having spent all my money on a hugely expensive upgrade I was terrified. In the end the fault (which it transpired was something that randomly effected all D700s at some point in their life) was fixed and I shared the cost with the seller, but it still left me £100 out of pocket. I was also very naive about the cost of full-frame lenses. Suddenly I was down to just one lens (my 50mm) and all the frame lenses I could buy started at £600 and rocketed up to thousands.
What I didn’t realise fully at the time is that the D700 took beautiful pictures. They were saturated with light, sharp where they should be with wonderful depth of field.
However I had an over-riding fear that my model was a ‘lemon’ and along with the shock of the cost of future lenses I panicked and made me make a silly move. I decided I needed to be back in my comfort-zone of cropped sensor cameras with a warranty that would make me feel safe so I traded in my D700
2013 : Nikon D7100 (£800 approx)
Six months after my upgrade to full-frame I decided to go back to a cropped sensor camera. Most importantly I wanted a new camera with a guarantee that wouldn’t let me down! My sister also traded in her D90 for a D7000 and I went for the newly released model above the D7100. Though the camera itself was great, slowly I started to appreciate that I’d given up something special with my D700. It’s very hard to put your finger on what exactly it is about full-frames, but I read something recently that described it like this. “If you spilled something, a large table cloth would soak up more of it than a small one” and that is the best way I can explain the relationship between light and sensor size.
Gradually I started to use my 18-105mm lens less and less which rather defeated the object of being able to afford the cheaper zoom lenses. My sister eventually traded in her D7000 last year and replaced it with a D610. I could see that subtle but magical difference in her pictures almost immediately and I realised I’d made a horrible mistake giving up my D700, which leaves me where I found myself last week…
I went back to the place I had bought the D7100 and traded it in for a second hand D600. By doing so I am once again back to just one lens (my 50mm) but I’m on the road I want to be on and happy to be looking ahead to be purchasing my next lens some time next year or whenever I can afford it. The part-exchange cost me £325, which is actually not too bad. The D600 got a bad name for itself due to a fault which it was recalled for. That fault has been fixed on my model which leaves me with a cheaper but near-identical version of my sister’s D610.
It’s early days yet, but already I can see the magic happening when I look down the lens and I’m happy to be back with full-frame…