You have a daily workhorse camera that gets used for all your run-of-the-mill jobs. Like most businesses you go with a five year replacement cycle, so why would you replace it with a seven year old camera?
Yes, I have just replaced my main camera with a seven year old one, however the route to this point has been somewhat circuitous. As I've written about before, there is a lot of photography that is light limited and so, for many photographers, a camera should try to balance the competing traits of sensor resolution and quantum efficiency. As a Nikon shooter, the following sensor review of the Z 6 from DxOMark caught my attention:
"With the introduction of the mirrorless Z 6, Nikon has adopted one of the best-performing full-frame 24 MP BSI-CMOS sensors. At base ISO, it has very good color and a wide dynamic range; additionally, the sensor has outstanding dynamic range at mid-ISO settings, and has particularly good low-light performance at high ISOs."
Now that's a great recommendation. Given the stellar low-light performance and reasonable resolution, it seemed like a good time to jump to the mirrorless bandwagon, particularly given Nikon's well regarded FTZ adapter. It was then that I saw DxOMark's follow-on comment:
the Z 6 is only slightly ahead of the sensor in the 2014 Nikon D750.
That made me sit up and look at DxOMark's dynamic range performance charts. These measure dynamic range ("the ratio between the maximum and minimum measurable light intensities") throughout the ISO range and give a good idea of how well the sensor performs in low-light at a range of ISO settings. They should also be used in conjunction with DxOMark's ISO rating which allows you to rank the sensor against others, but is less granular in the information it presents. If you compare the Z 6 to D750 then it performs marginally better.
The D750 remains a current camera in Nikon's line up, so it made me wonder, given the slight gain in sensor performance since 2014, what other cameras might fit the bill. The Nikon Df, also a current camera, dates from 2013 using the highly regarded 16MP sensor from the D4. The performance is on a par with the Z 6, although has a mid-ISO pickup. In short it also has great low-light performance and was class leading when it came out.
Following through with Nikon's current line up leads to the D850. Currently class leading, the low-light performance is on a par with the best competing cameras, however the resolution and dynamic range are highly rated. The downside? It's expensive at $3,300. The D850 is a relatively new model, with it's DNA founded upon the D800 and subsequent D800E and D810. An examination of DxOMark's reviews for the sensors in these cameras shows that there were marginal gains between models. The D800E canceled the anti-aliasing filter, whilst the D810 employed a new sensor design at the same resolution with the AA filter removed. Improvements were gradual.
In one of my previous articles I postulated that Sony had been developing a new marketing strategy based upon offering sensor variants of the same camera, and then continuing to sell older versions of the same model. Rather than cannibalizing their own sales, I believe they add to them at the expense of Nikon and Canon. If you can't afford an a7 III at $1,998, then why not an a7 at $798?
If Nikon had carried on manufacturing the D800, D800E, and D810, how much would they cost, as price now becomes the key differentiator between them? We can't know but the secondhand marketplace is a good proxy and the trade-off between age, condition, shutter count, and model strikes a balance with prices for well used models starting at around $700.
So my latest camera upgrade has been to a seven year old model in the form of the D800 whose resolution, dynamic range, and low light performance remains competitive (it does lack in other areas though, such as video, WiFi, Bluetooth, screen, and image stabilization to name a few!). This opens up three potential upgrade scenarios:
- Buy new and upgrade at the earliest opportunity, taking a competitive advantage that a new model offers;
- Buy new, but upgrade with a longer than five year lifecycle to make it cost effective;
- Buy secondhand to take advantage of someone else's depreciation and upgrade more often.
I've opted for three. How do you upgrade?
Parts of lead image in the Public Domain via Wikimedia.