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Nikon D300

Review Date: Jan 2, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Roughly in descending importance to me: - AF fine tuning (killer feature for me) - LCD screen second to none - 51-point AF very accurate - 100% viewfinder coverage - Beautifully uncluttered viewfinder image - Battery life much better compared to D200 - equivalent to my old D70 - instantaneous image playback and histogram calculations (no pause like on D200) - Image quality excellent, noise well controlled easily to ISO1600 - Picture Control settings impressive - I like the D2X color modes recently released - Build quality excellent - Optional battery grip much better than D200's (one quibble is you need to take off the grip to get at camera battery compartment) - Anti-dust cleaning mechanism - 6 fps to 8 fps with battery grip (not high on my priority list) - LiveView interesting though not really much use for me yet - Selectable 12-bit or 14-bit RAW images (honestly have not even bothered with 14-bit yet)
- Wish there was _true_ ISO 100 for studio shots with good light to maintain optimal dynamic range - I still think in-body VR would be nice for legacy glass even if not as good as lens VR - Not cheap compared to competitors

Upgraded from my D200 to this machine. No regrets whatsoever folks. Build quality just as good as the D200 and now the optional battery grip solid when mounted and also made of magnesium alloy. The new LCD is a revelation and better than I imagined. Pixel density high enough that the image looks smooth without hints of pixellation. A fully charged battery now good for 1000 shots like my old D70 even with the usual image review in between (something I grew to resent was the D200's weak battery life).

After about 1 month of moderate use, I've found the AF fine tune is a feature _I will not be without_ from this point on. It has essentially rendered my Sigma 20mm f/1.8 usable wide open by improving AF accuracy within the shallow DOF. I've also noticed improvements in everything from the Nikon 35/2.0, 50/1.4 to 85/1.8. Zooms don't benefit as much however due to fluctuations at different focal lengths though at least you can fine tune so that focus on average is a bit better through the range.

Image quality is clearly a stop better than D200 for noise even with 2Mpix advantage. I can easily shoot ISO1600 with little hesitation whereas previously started getting worried about ISO800+ on D200. I recommend staying with in-camera noise processing set to "low" since I found the "normal" setting a bit too much reduction which loses fine detail. Buy Noise Ninja or Dfine if you need more precise noise reduction in post-processing. No banding or image quality issues which I experienced on the D200 with high contrast shots.

I wasn't happy with the "Standard" color setting - too saturated and I preferred the "Neutral" setting instead or the D2X color modes that can be downloaded from Nikon. The downloadable Picture Control settings which you can customize in Nikon Capture NX (free with camera) is a step above the old Mode I/II (aRGB)/III settings and provides more freedom than just the custom curves of previous models.

There's obviously much more I've left out of the review here but the bottom line is that this is a very impressive camera as suggested by the list of "positive aspects" above... I dare say that this will likely be my camera of choice for the next number of years as I suspect the DX format cameras have reached a nice level of maturity now. Part of me still wished to see in-body VR but given the excellent high-ISO performance versus competitors like the Sony A700 or Olympus E3 (small 4/3rds sensor) with anti-shake, makes this less of an issue. It is a bit more expensive than competitors but I think reasonable given what it offers with its full range of advanced features, speed, build quality and ergonomics...

Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF]

Review Date: May 29, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Very sharp. Definately usable at f2.8 IF you have a good copy. Overall very good IQ. Light weight. Good price. Fast AF speed on Nikon D200.
Plastic construction. Durability issues? Not as fast or silent as AF-S of course...

Bought for NIKON.

Went through 2 copies and definately the 2nd copy was MUCH better. The first copy I received was "Assembled in China" and had major issues with infinity focusing from about 28mm onward. Obviously soft especially at f2.8 with shallow DOF.

I sent that back and the next copy was "Made In Japan". The focus now is sharp and usable even wide open at f2.8. Stopped down to f5.6 and further, it's one of my sharpest lenses. The 7 rounded aperture blades produces rather good bokeh on this lens. Contrast and color rendition with portraits have been excellent. I haven't seen CA or edge sharpness issues ruin my pictures yet.

Construction is a bit plasticky but the good part is that it's light so don't be bashing this around! The 6 year warranty here in Canada is very impressive.

Overall, this serves my purpose as a "walkaround" fast zoom. Works wonderfully with weddings - plus light enough that you don't need to do weights to wield this over a long day of shooting :-). At 1/3 price of Nikon 17-55/2.8 DX with essentially equivalent image quality, I'm happy. (The Nikon has AF-S for faster focusing but I find the focus speed good enough.) Make sure you buy at a place with good refund/exchange policy just in case you get a lemon...

Nikon D200

Review Date: Mar 31, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,400.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Excellent build. Very nice pictures - color, metering spot on. Fantastic Nikon ergonomics. Love the ability to use old AI(S) lenses. Personally I prefer having screw drive lenses for AF so the lens is less complicated and better camera bodies lead to better focus speed - plus I prefer putting $$ into the glass rather than electronics.
Image a bit more noisy than Canon competition > ISO400. However, still very usable and NoiseNinja/NoiseWare/etc does the trick so long as exposure is right (applies to all cameras obviously).

Had been using the D70 for >2 years before upgrading. Wanted to upgrade to more resolution, better color rendition, improved metering, and faster AF. Well, I certainly got all this with the D200. Furthermore, the ability to meter old manual focus lenses has been a treat! The image quality and build of some of the AIS lenses are truly superb... And relatively cheap!

The magnesium body feels great though heavier than D70 obviously (more "pro" feel I guess). I've also got the MB200 grip for times whan I need more batttery life or anticipate lots of portrait shots [most of the time], and don't mind lugging around something looking like the D2x.

So far, this is clearly more camera than I need at this time so planning on keeping it for awhile or unless image quality improves very significantly.

Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX DG Aspherical RF

Review Date: Mar 25, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $300.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Only f1.8 lens in this focal length for most camera systems. Good price. Close focus distance.
Sigma EX finish easily rubs off. Sharpness usable but not quite sharp enough for critical work until about f3.5 on my copy. From that point on, quite happy with sharpness. Too easy to accidentally switch AF <-> MF clutch. Large filter size of 82mm.

A quirky lens but I've fallen in love with what it can do! It's fast and capable of shooting at f1.8, and I love the close focusing distance when I purposely want to achieve the perspective distortion effect.

I wish it could be sharper around the f2.8.

As noted by others, the clutch mechanism a bit odd. I really don't mind but wish the friction was a bit tighter to not so easily accidentally trigger the switch.

Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR

Review Date: Jun 25, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $550.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Nice build, minimal vignetting on current model dSLR's, totally flare resistant on my D70! Ready for full frame and useful on film cams. Very good optics.
Pure APC dSLR shooters should definately consider DX 18-200VR also...

Was out looking for a decent carry-around lens for travel and was initially not going to consider this lens after reading all the so-so and negative reports. As it turns out, I managed to get my hands on a 18-200 VRII for testing at a local shop and was disappointed by the build quality for the price... Even at the MSRP price point (not to mention crazy eBay markups), I wasn't completely comfortable with the distortions, lens creep, and "feel" of that lens. Also, I was concerned about the usability of the images at extremes around 18mm and 200mm so figured if I bought it, I probably would rarely use that range unless really forced to!

Anyhow, disappointed, I then took a look at the 24-120 VR. It's 2/3 the price, allows full frame coverage for my film cam, and for a 5X zoom, image quality really quite good - except at 24mm wide open in which case make sure to stop down a notch or two. I've now settled on this along with the Tokina 12-24 for all my travels with the D70.

Lens contrast is really quite good (again watch out for 24mm wide open), nice slightly "warm" Nikon color rendition to my eyes, and no problems with sharpness here. VR works very well in lower light with static objects (obviously) - a slight click is audible when it's engaged and disengaged to let you know it's there. SLW focuses fast and quiet (about same as the D70 kit 18-70 DX). Resolution is excellent unless you pixel peep (no zoom lens can compete with the primes here obviously). Focuses at 50mm distance for decent macro shots.

Good travel lens for both dSLR and film bodies where it'll live 90% of the time (also recommend a Tokina 12-24 f4 for those architectural and landscape shots on travels [BTW, the Tokina can be used full frame from 18-24mm in a pinch!]). I'm keeping this guy for the inevitable full-frame dSLR's (the next step up from my D70 IMHO). Looking forward to more lower light portraits with a zoom thanks to VR!

PS: Copy reviewed is a newer production of this lens, serial number 400xxx, still made in Japan.