A New Camera

Will it take my photography to the next level or have I gone as far as I can go?

Desert Still LifeLast spring, I shot one of what I consider one of my best photographs. I’d been “photojeeping” out in the desert when the hedgehog cacti were blooming. I stopped the Jeep on the two-track I’d been following, grabbed my tripod, camera, and cable release, and set off on foot across a relatively flat area peppered with pink blossoms. When I saw this cactus, my eye began a search for an interesting composition. I had to get down on the ground, with my tripod’s legs as short as they could go, to frame this shot. Although I let the camera handle the exposure (as I usually do), I fine-tuned the focus and depth of field using aperture settings. Said simply: I put a lot of effort into this shot — a lot more than I usually do.

And I was very pleased with the results.

Until I looked more closely at the photo in Photoshop, using 100% magnification. That’s when I could clearly see that the image lacked the kind of sharpness I wanted in my photos. It was as if nothing in the photo was in clear focus. Given the depth of field, that just didn’t seem possible.

I had done just about everything in my power to get the best shot I could and I’d fallen short of desired results. It was like being slapped in the face.

Nikkor 16-85mm LensI started doing research. I knew it wasn’t the lenses I was using — this particular image was shot with my Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR Nikkor lens, which was still relatively new at the time. Although this is not a top-of-the-line Nikon lens, it is not a junk lens. The low ISO settings on the camera should have prevented the graininess I observed. That left the camera or me.

I didn’t think it was the camera. After all, I’d come into photography the old fashioned way: using film. When dealing with film, the camera is just a mechanical device to get the exposure — at least at the level of camera I could afford. The lens handles the clarity of the image, so we normally put our money into good optics. Processing and printing (in the case of prints) are also important for the final result.

So it must be me, I reasoned. I resolved to try harder.

Time passed. I took a lot of photos. I started getting accustomed to disappointment. It was taking a lot of the joy out of photography. I’d do a shoot at an amazing place and get ho-hum images.

Nikon D80Then I started thinking more about the camera. I knew that my Nikon D80, which I’d had since 2007, had a 10.2 megapixel Nikon DX format CCD imaging sensor. Newer cameras offered higher resolutions (more megapixels or “piglets,” as my family calls them). They also offered different sensors. My husband’s D90, for example, has a 12.3-megapixel DX-format CMOS imaging sensor. And I knew that there were also cameras that had film-frame size sensors. Why the differences? Did it really matter? I began to get an education about how cameras differ in the world of digital photography.

By the autumn of 2010, I was convinced I needed a different camera. I was limited, however, because I already had a huge investment in Nikkor DX-compatible lenses. That meant that I couldn’t go with a film-frame size sensor in a new camera without buying new lenses. That also meant that any thoughts of jumping the good ship Nikon and boarding the S.S. Canon were not entertained. (Don’t get me wrong: Canon makes excellent equipment, too. But I know Nikon and have an investment in Nikon equipment; it makes no sense for me to switch.)

In November, I went to Tempe Camera to learn more. I was about 75% ready to plunk down up to $1500 for a new camera. But the sales guy educated me some more. Although I’d always seen my husband’s D90 as a minor upgrade to my D80, the sales guy told me that the software was far superior in the D90. I’d get better, clearer images from a D90.

Of course, my husband already had a D90, so it didn’t make sense to buy another one. I’d give it a go with his camera.

That didn’t work. When we went shooting together, he wanted to use his camera. Can you blame him? So I’d be stuck with mine and wouldn’t get the opportunity I needed to experiment with a different camera.

Nikon D7000I heard about the Nikon D7000 in, of all places, Wilson Camera on Camelback Road in Phoenix. We’d gone in there to get passport photos taken and the guy at the counter had been almost drooling over the D7000. I started doing some research. I liked what I read. Not only was it another [big] step above Mike’s D90, but Ken Rockwell, a highly respected camera reviewer, said:

The D7000 is Nikon’s most advanced camera at any price. The fact that it sells for $1,200 make [sic] it a no-brainer, which is why it’s sold out. The D7000 is Nikon’s best DSLR ever.

Holy cow. That was quite a statement.

I did more research on Nikon’s Web site. (That site, by the way, is an excellent and well-designed source of information about Nikon products and photography in general.) I liked the feature list. Better sensor, higher resolution images, programmable custom settings, more scene modes, true 1080p video capabilities — hell, it could even do time-lapse photography without an add-on intervalometer. There are a lot more features; if you’re interested I highly recommend reading up on Nikon’s Web site.

But Mr. Rockwell wasn’t kidding when he said the camera was sold out. Once I decided I wanted one, I spent two hours trying to track one down. Amazon.com was selling one for $100 above retail price. (I don’t pay more than retail for anything; heck, I seldom pay retail for anything.) Tempe Camera only had a kit, which came with the Nikkor 18-105mm lens. I don’t have that lens but I don’t need it either — and was not interested in spending $300 more for the camera with lens. A dozen calls all reported out of stock, although many dealers were willing to let me place an order anyway. But like the true American I am, I wanted immediate gratification — or as close to it as I could get. I was going to San Francisco in a few days and planned to use my new camera there.

I wound up on J&R’s Web site. I used to shop in the J&R store on Park Row when I worked in downtown Manhattan years ago. This was back in the mid 1980s, before digital cameras, when personal computers were in their infancy. J&R then was what chains like Best Buy and Fry’s Electronics are now. (Would love to walk through J&R again; maybe the next time I’m in New York I’ll make the trip down there.) I’d bought other camera and computer equipment from them in the past. Their Web site said they were out of stock on a D7000 body only, but I called anyway. The guy who answered in Maspeth, NY (in the borough of Queens, in case you’re wondering) said a shipment had just come in and the Web site evidently hadn’t been updated yet. They were selling at retail. Brand new, in an unopened box, packaged for U.S. sales. (I asked, of course; I know what goes on among some NYC camera dealers.) Free shipping would get it to me by Friday or Monday. I asked how much overnight shipping would cost. $27.27. Sold!

I expect it to arrive this afternoon.

Nikon GP-1 GPSIn a fit of crazy shopping mania, I also ordered the Nikon GP-1 GPS from Amazon.com. This device, which can attach to the camera’s hot shoe, will automatically geotag my images. This will seriously reduce my geotagging workflow and ensure that all of my photos are properly tagged. I even coughed up the $4 for overnight shipping to get that today.

Once I get the camera and learn to use it, the ball will be in my court. No more excuses; I’ll have good camera equipment and should be able to take better photos. If I can’t — well, I’ll only have myself to blame.

It’ll be interesting to see whether this camera takes me to the next level as a photographer. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

12 thoughts on “A New Camera

  1. That’s interesting. i read your post on Twitter and thought you meant the D700! I wasn’t even aware of the D7000. About a year ago I changed brands and upgraded from my Olympus 530 because I didn’t want to spend $$$$ on a 4/3 sensor. After alot of research I opted for the D300S. Having no modes means having to learn settings for the different modes OR setting up my own programs in the camera. I also opted to the 18-200MM a-f ED VR lens. I hope you’re happy with your camera, I look forward to seeing your shots.

  2. Hi,
    My husband and I live in the historic part of Buckeye, AZ which is east of Phoenix. We camp often south of Wickenburg off Vulture Mine Road. Touring the beautiful desert on our Yamaha Rhino,(on established trails, of course!) is our favorite pastime.
    I found your blog after searching for new saguaro arms…in your July, 20, 2007 blog, you talked about the saguaro in your yard and it’s new arm. You also planned to take a new picture of the baby arm in a few months. I’ve been looking through the blogs since, but haven’t seen anything!! Did I miss it? I would love to see the growth since 2007.
    We’ve been lucky enough to take 2 helicopter flights, one in Alaska, one in Hawaii…loved them both!! That’s my only connection to helicopters but I very much enjoy your blog!

    Thank you,

  3. @Kuby
    I came VERY close to buying a D300S. And then I heard about the D7000 and was quickly sold on it.

    It arrives today; I’m hoping to take some shots in San Francisco during my trip there later this week. Will likely post at least a few of them here. Thanks!

  4. @Peggy Edgar
    There are LOTS of great trails all around Wickenburg. I take my Jeep out quite often during the fall, winter, and spring months when I’m around. Spring is best because of the flowers. Every week brings something new.

    The saguaro in my front yard now has three arms. I need to take a new photo one of these days. Unfortunately, this time of year the cactus spends a lot of time half in the shade of my house.

    Glad you like the blog. Thanks for taking the time to comment here.

  5. One more thing regarding learning your new camera. Nikon has the coolest app for the iPhone that has award winning pictures, and many learning tools that include video’sl i don’t know if they have it for other phones but it’s also worth checking out. Nikon also has an app that is an education on lenses. Worth checking out.

  6. @Kuby
    Very cool, but the app for the Nikon D7000 is a whopping $27.99. The last time I spent more than $20 for an app, I was sorely disappointed — and no refunds! Too bad there doesn’t seem to be a sample version available. Would like to take a peek before I buy.

What do you think?