Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love, Lust and the Nikon D800

“True love comes quietly, without banners or flashing lights. If you hear bells, get your ears checked." (Erich Segal)

Because it's Valentine's Day and you're trying to be nice, you might agree that I have a pleasing "way" with cameras. Unfortunately, this ability doesn't translate to the opposite sex. Things can easily get lost in the male/female translation.

Sherry, the first target of my affections, was completely unimpressed when I mooned her during kindergarten recess. After this setback (and a good paddling), it took me six years to gather enough courage to steal my first kiss. Sandy granted me that quick, nervous smooch behind the concession stand at a JV football game. My first impression was, "That's it? I waited six years for THAT?"

Like mooning girls and wooing women, chasing after new cameras has meant changing my ideas about what I really want, versus what I really need.

The Nikon D800My first body was a boring Canon AE-1 (mechanical shutter), followed by an intriguing Minolta XD-11 (electronic shutter, bring extra batteries!). But once I held a well-built Nikon body in my sweaty hands, life was never the same again.

I happily worked my way up through the Nikon F series (film), but something in me had matured by the time the D series (digital) arrived. I no longer lusted after those young bodies with the absurdly-enhanced features (and prices). Sure, you play with all the pretty buttons at first, but they're soon forgotten and ignored. I grew tired of paying attention to the extra techno-candy. Now I just wanted a less pretentious, less expensive camera that would still tend to my basic needs.

Enter the Nikon D800, little sister to the untouchable D4. I'd been fantasizing about the shy D800 since last May, when I accidentally drown my lovely D700. After teasing us for two years, Nikon finally unveiled the D800 last Monday. What would it be like?

My first impression was, "Huh?"

I'm a little baffled by this mysterious camera, and I'm not at all sure who Nikon is courting with this one. Unfortunately, the D800 body of my imagination is not the one that Nikon released.

Who in the world asked for 36 MP files? I'm an old Tri-X newspaper guy. Grain is good! And a little soft focus can look artsy. Photojournalists certainly don't need 36 MPs. Do wedding photographers? Like we learned with HD video, most people don't look so good when you can see every pore. Besides, even the ancient D200 already has enough resolution to print billboards -- why go higher?

Attempting a  panoramic stitch of multiple 36 MP files would crash my old computer with a heart attack. And who wants to provide housing (hard drives) for a growing family of obese files? Not me. I was already wondering if 12 MP was more than I really needed.

Stuffing 36 MPs into a sensor also causes problems that don't fit "my way" with cameras. First, it means more digital noise and less low-light capabilities. (At my age, I need all the low light help I can get.)  I would have to throttle the D800 down to 15 MPs in DX mode to bring it in line with what the D700 can already do in the dark. That would also bump it up to 5 FPS -- same as the D200, big whoop.

Also, writing 36 MP files to disc at 4 FPS is certainly impressive, but that's just slow-motion foreplay for sports and wildlife photographers. Speed matters to us. Maybe it's a guy thing. The opposite sex keeps telling us that size doesn't matter. So then why can't we trade some unnecessary camera resolution for some much-needed speed, say 12 MP at 12 FPS? Or even 10 MP at 10 FPS. Now THAT would rock my world.

Nikon did get one thing right with the D800, however. It finally has respectable movie-making capabilities. HD is a good thing, but time-lapse is what I really lust after. Kinda' getting tired of stringing together thousands of still frames. Time-lapse by itself is almost enough to justify a new body.

So what did I do?  I'm still a guy, and I still have my weeknesses.

I pre-ordered a D800 about five minutes after finding the announcement. Too late. My order was about 24 hours after the news broke (I was on the road), but Amazon's estimated shipping date came back as January 4, 2013!  I'm thinking more likely, mid-March.

I just want to hold the D800 in my hands for a few days to see if I fall in love with it. If not, I will kiss it on the prism and politely end the relationship. Then I'll order another graceful D700, along with a dedicated movie camera -- there's a certain one that I already have my eye on.

Now all I have to do is convince my beloved wife that I really need two more bodies. But I'll wait until after Valentine's Day, just in case she misunderstands me.

[ 2/16/12 UPDATE: Amazon revised their shipping date to late March, 2012. ]

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