Last modified 2 April 2015 by administrator

DX or FX?

Probably the biggest decision when starting to build a system is first deciding between DX or FX. Will moving to FX make you a better photographer? The reasoning may be subtle, but by investing in an FX body, you may be inspired to increase your determination to up your game.

so what does FX give you?

The terms ‘DX’ and ‘FX’ refer to Nikon’s nomenclature for 1.5x crop-frame (23.5mm x 15.6mm) sensored bodies, and 135mm-sized (24mm x 36mm), full-frame sensored bodies, respectively. A “1.5x” crop factor refers to the factor which must be multiplied by a given lens’ focal length to obtain the “equivalent” field-of-view that lens would render on a full-frame FX body. For example, a 50mm lens on a 1.5x DX body will yield a field-of-view equivalent to 75mm (short-telephoto). So what do you get if choosing to opt for the more expensive FX format?

1. A larger, brighter pentaprism viewfinder facilitates easier viewing.
2. Ability to exploit f/1.4 wide-angle FX primes at their full angle-of-view.
3. Larger FX bodies often improve ergonomics for those with large hands.
4. The ease of recording extremely low-light, available-light scenes, without incurring excessive noise levels.

Unfortunately, moving to FX also ups the ante for follow-on lens purchases. But also, better, faster glass is available in FX format. The combined results of a low-noise FX body, paired with an ultra-fast set of primes, frees you to shoot available-light virtually anywhere. Being able to shoot under less than ideal circumstances allows you to take more pictures in more varied locations.

A used Nikon D700 is a great buy right now, and an economical way to get into FX. If you want even more low-light capability, look for a used Nikon D3s–both will significantly outperform even the best DX body in low light. Focusing is also easier with an FX body, and faster lenses make for even quicker auto-focus response. Again, the Nikon D700 is still an excellent buy–you get a full-frame body with professional ruggedness. Sure, it’s only 12MP, but, again, in low light conditions, it will outperform the Nikon D7100 by about one full-stop.

not all FX glass is expensive.

Nikon’s new 28mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.8 FX lenses are two excellent photojournalistic focal lengths, plus they’re both fairly fast, and affordably priced. With two D600s (or, two used D700s), with the 28mm mounted on one body, and the 85mm on the second, not only would you be ready for almost anything without having to change lenses, you’d have a noise floor about one-stop cleaner than even the latest DX-sensored camera. Later, maybe try to find a used or refurbished AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G VR I. They go for about $1,300 USD. While improved corner-sharpness, and better image-stabilization are claims of the newer AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, for most, the older VR I version is fine. In fact, the older 70-200mm actually has noticeably increased magnification at close-focus distances than the newer lens does, and is one of the reasons, I chose the older 70-200mm for my personal kit.

I recommended investing in FX early on based my own experience. For every dollar I spent on DX-only glass, or a “better” DX body, if spent differently, I would’ve been that much closer to building a better FX system. For example, very soon after I bought my D7000, I also bought a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 DX wide-angle. That’s $1,199, plus $699, for a total of $1,900 . . . nearly the same price of a new Nikon D610, or used D700 plus a lens.

I eventually invested in two more DX-only lenses for my D7000, resulting in a complete “DX Trinity” set of f/2.8 zooms: Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G, and used Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8 DX (i.e., “70-200mm equivalent” focal-range for DX). All totaled, that’s $1,199 + $699 + $1,000 + $500, for a total DX-investment of $3,400. A similar FX set-up in the same focal lengths is arguably considerably more, but in retrospect, I would much rather have that $3,700 or so invested in FX gear instead. I now several FX bodies, plus a fair amount of FX glass, and a complete DX system, which I almost never use.

going DX:

Should you decide to go DX, here are some of the key features differentiating the D3300 vs. the D7100 (the D3300 spec is listed first):

• 1/200th max. flash sync vs. 1/250th max. flash sync.
• 1/4,000th max. shutter speed vs. 1/8,000th max shutter speed.
• 5 fps vs. 6 fps.
• 11-point AF + 1 cross-type AF sensor vs. 51-point AF + 15 cross-type AF sensors.
• Pentamirror vs. pentaprism.
• 95% viewfinder vs. 100% viewfinder.
• Single SD card slot vs. dual SD card slots.
• D7100 has an available vertical grip.

shooting DX as a pro:

For most pro event work, two identical bodies are preferred (I’ve mixed both formats and bodies in the past, and it’s truly a compromise), and starting out with two DX bodies will cost substantially less than buying two FX bodies. Identical bodies permit instant switching, with no “adjustment” lag–it’s an extremely fast way to shoot. The main argument for FX is that a full-frame sensor is over twice as large as a DX sensor, and even the oldest FX-sensored DSLR will outperform even today’s best DX sensors in low light:

Nikon D7100 DxO low-light score: 1256 ISO
Nikon D700 DxO low-light score: 2303 ISO
Nikon 610 DxO low-light score: 2925 ISO
Nikon D3s DxO low-light score: 3253 ISO

Although new D610s and used Nikon D3s bodies sell for quite a bit more than a new D7100, I think it’s worth noting that a used Nikon D700 FX body sells for about the same price as a new D7100. On the flip side, today’s low-end Nikon DX bodies are pretty good. So, if cost is a paramount, you could also consider the complete opposite direction: a pair of D3300s, or D5300s (although you’d be limited to using AF-S lenses only). I recently bought a refurbished D3200 for only $275, and I love it (see below)! Just be mindful–if you choose DX, and begin to also invest in DX glass, these all become sunk costs if and when you decide to move to FX.

two-body systems:

FX: x2 Nikon D700 bodies [about $1,000-$1,400 each, used].
DX: x2 Nikon D3300 bodies [best low-light DxO score (1385) of all current Nikon DX bodies].

Now some may argue that the D3300 isn’t a pro body–it’s not (personally, for event work, I shoot with two Nikon D3s bodies, plus a D800E where appropriate). And, it won’t work with the two Nikkor AF-D lenses you already own–it’ll only drive a modern AF-S, or other-branded lens with a built-in focus motor. But it’s an excellent value for the money (and, as I said, I absolutely love shooting my refurbed D3200). Unfortunately, I don’t think Nikon sells the D3300 as a body-only product (the pricier, but-no-better-other-than-having-WiFi, D5300 is sold body-only). Maybe some will show up as refurbs in a few months. Sure, the more “pro” option in DX is a pair of D7100s, but for about the same money, you could opt for two used D700s instead (yes, FX glass will be more expensive, but you’ll have a lot more wide-angle options).

Should you decide to go DX, here are some of the key features differentiating the D3300 vs. the D7100 (the D3300 spec is listed first):

• 1/200th max. flash sync vs. 1/250th max. flash sync.
• 1/4,000th max. shutter speed vs. 1/8,000th max shutter speed.
• 5 fps vs. 6 fps.
• 11-point AF + 1 cross-type AF sensor vs. 51-point AF + 15 cross-type AF sensors.
• Pentamirror vs. pentaprism.
• 95% viewfinder vs. 100% viewfinder.
• Single SD card slot vs. dual SD card slots.
• D7100 has an available vertical grip.

Lens compatibility:

An interesting feature of the low-end Nikon DSLR line-up is that the D3300 is able to mount pre-AI lenses (assuming the mount is unchanged from the D3200). But, of course, the D3300/5300 bodies can only auto-focus using AF-S lenses (i.e., those with built-in motors), since these “budget” bodies lack a mechanical screw-drive. Conversely, the D7100 cannot mount pre-AI lenses, but can auto-focus using both older Nikkor screw-drive lenses, and modern AF-S lenses. Lastly, since the D3300 is newer than the D7100, it benefits from Nikon’s latest EXPEED 4 ASIC, whereas the D7100 uses the older EXPEED 3 processor.

That’s partly why I brought up the notion of the bottom-of-the-line, “consumer” Nikon DSLRs. Most would agree that they would be a step-up from micro-4/3rds systems, at least in terms of increased light-gathering ability due to their larger APS-C sensors. When I bought my D3200 refurb, I was amazed at how light it is. It weighs only one pound, but feels like even less. Slap a lightweight f/1.8 prime on this body, and it’s almost effortless to hold. In contrast, my old D7000 with a heavy DX zoom attached is like carrying a brick.

But, I think there’s something to be said for small and light. Also, the cost of back-up bodies if choosing this route can be really affordable–you could buy two D3200s for only about $600! What I also really like about my D3200 is that it’s quiet. It’s a very stealthy camera to shoot. The “soft-shutter” sound from my D3200 is also somehow very “satisfying.” Most of the time, I have my new AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G married to it (purchased specifically for use with this body). As I said, I love shooting with it, especially with this relatively fast, and also very lightweight lens.

Low-cost DX “dream” system:

If I were planning to purchase a DX system today from the ground-up, here’s what I’d be looking at . . .

• Nikon D3200/3300/5300 body ‘A’ + Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 HSM ($799 USD).
• Nikon D3200/3300/5300 body ‘B’ + Sigma 50-150 f/2.8 OS HSM ($989 USD).

This approach spends more on glass than on bodies, but thanks to Sigma, there’s some really cool glass available now for DX shooters. The new Sigma 18-35mm (28.8mm-58mm equivalent) gives you both speed (it’s literally the fastest wide-angle zoom on the planet), plus decent wide-angle coverage. Yes, the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 (75mm-225mm equivalent) is nearly as big and heavy as the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, but it’s also less than half the cost! Both lenses have built-in AF (HSM) motors, so they’re compatible with any of the non-screw drive Nikon DSLRs. Add some decent flash gear, and you’d have a pretty slick system!

“Bargain” FX system:

• Nikon D700 body ‘A’ ($1,200, used) + AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm ($1,050, used/refurbished), or AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm ($1,400 used/refurbished).
• Nikon D700 body ‘B’ ($1,200, used) + AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G VR I ($1,300, used/refurbished).

If choosing to go FX, this is a pretty slick, two-body “pro” system, all for about $5,000 USD.

I would envision such a system still being used with “pro” lighting gear. Its modern sensor can make pretty impressive images with a well-lit scene. Throw a PocketWizard Flex TT1 in a D3300’s hot-shoe (or, a Nikon AS-15 hot-shoe adapter, if requiring a PC-socket), and you’re able to employ even the most advanced off-camera flash techniques, just like the big boys.

I was just reading up on the Nikon D5300 last night, and discovered that, unlike the D3200/D3300, it inherits the Multi-CAM 4800DX AF module from the D7000 (the D7100’s focus module has since been improved). The D5300 employs 39 AF-points, including 9 cross-type sensors, with a claimed low-light performance down to -1 EV. Knowing this, I would be leaning toward a pair of D5300s over twin D3200/D3300 bodies for this feature alone (plus, the fact that D5300s are sold in body-only configurations). As far as opting for D7100s, I think a pair of used, full-frame D700s is still the better value.

I’ve tried just about every lens I own on my D3200, and even with a heavy lens, I still enjoy using the lightweight body. I guess my larger point is, the barrier to entry is no longer two $5,000 bodies (be they the original Nikon D1, or a pair of D3s bodies, both of which sold for about $5,000 each when new), and that there are simply many more options today, both new, and used.