Contemplating a camera brand switch - Part 5 of 5

March 17, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

If you would have asked me about Nikon a few years ago I would have laughed at you. They were in or near financial trouble. They were late to the digital mirrorless game and their earlier offerings, in my opinion, were not competitive. Nikon, years before this, was the number two photography brand behind Canon (at least in terms of sales). When Sony brought out their mirrorless system to market they stole market share from Nikon in particular. Sony, in terms of serious photography equipment, came from nowhere to overtake Nikon. Even today, Nikon is in distant third place behind Canon and Sony. Yet, Nikon is in the final running for my business. They have turned around their business. They achieved this in two ways. First, they brought out really good gear. Second, they built brand loyalty by offering major firmware updates that not only improved their products but developed trust from their users.

          It is not all rosy news in the Nikon camp. Their APS-C offerings do not seem to me to attract much attention, and for good reason. Some may possibly argue that Nikon has neglected this market segment. Lastly, their lower tier cameras, in my opinion, are also behind the competition, especially as far as autofocus systems are concerned, so I hear. I am not sure if Nikon is choosing to position themselves at the higher end of the market, we will see.

          So why am I seriously looking into Nikon? For what I shoot, their offerings are very good, and at reasonable prices. The Z8 is a fantastic camera that received multiple camera of the year awards. It has a stacked sensor with fast readout speed, a feature lacking in Canon (other than the Canon R3 - but 24MP does not interest me). The major complaint against the camera is the lack of a mechanical shutter. This is a valid concern for those who shoot with flash, but that does not impact me. As of a few weeks ago the Z8 received a major firmware update which brought new features to the camera. To me, this was an important firmware update to watch. The Z8's autofocus system, according to many reviewers, was good but behind Sony and Canon's. This was particularly true, say the reviewers, when tracking birds with watery backgrounds and when birds flew from a blue sky background into a vegetation based background. The firmware update not only fixed these issues but may also have brought the autofocus system to parity with Sony and Canon's.

          I still have two niggles that are keeping me back from jumping to Nikon. Their pre-capture only shoots in JPEG. Now I don't know what on earth Nikon is thinking here because who buys a $3,800.00 camera to shoot JPEG? Nikon's real strength lies not only in the wonderful Z8 but also in the great bird and wildlife suited lenses. These pro/prosumer lenses cost more than cheaper consumer lenses would. Surely, Nikon must know that their users (of this camera) are avid enthusiasts and pro or prosumers not interested in JPEG for the most part. The second niggle is the bottleneck created by using asymmetrical card slots. One card slots uses the newer CF-Express type B cards while the other slot uses the older SD card type. CF-Express cards handsomely outperform SD cards. This means that, if a photographer sets the camera to use the second card slot as a backup to the first one, that the camera's speed, to clear the buffer, for example, will be limited to the speed of the slowest card. Other than these two issues the Z8 looks like a fantastic camera.

          Most people think that Sony's ergonomic are horrible and that their camera bodies are too small and therefore uncomfortable in their hands. Personally I love Sony's form factor and they fit my hand perfectly (I am a small person). I have handled the Z8 and it is quite a bit bigger than not only the Sony's but also Canon's R5. It is a bit big for my liking (And I am asking for the bigger CF-Express card slot in place of the smaller SD card slot). On everything else, I am very satisfied with what the Z8 offers. It's price of $3,800.00 compares very well with the price of $4,400.00 or so of a used Sony A1. One could rightly argue that $600 is not enough to warrant changing camera brands. However, shooting at faster frame rates means that the photographer will need bigger memory cards. The Sony's CF-Express type A cards cost roughly double that of the type B cards. This results in another expense which can be costly. I don't want to buy more SD cards because, they are being replaced by CF-Express cards. Nobody feels good buying VHS tapes when CD's are taking over. It is just not a judicious way to spend one's money (and my budget is tight). Then, of course, the Sony A1 is used. We have not talked about specific lenses yet but since we are talking about finances, Nikon's 180-600mm is priced very kindly, given the competition, at $1,700.00.

          Given that I will be satisfied with either the Z8 or the A1, perhaps I should concern myself with the lens offerings. From the reviewers point of view, it seems as though the Nikon 180-600 and the Sony 200-600 are equally sharp with the Nikon having the edge in terms of image stabilization. I am not sure if this is due to the IBIS (in body image stabilization - inside the camera versus that of the lens) system or of the lens' system. If it is due to the IBIS then I believe Sony has already improved that as is evidenced by the A7R V. Any new Sony release should have the improved IBIS also. Both Sony and Nikon's lenses are great. Where there is a difference is what is on offer by each company in terms of long prime lenses. Both companies' 600mm F4's are very good, with Nikon having the edge here because of a built in 1.4X teleconverter. However, these lenses do not interest me as my budget simply, and probably never will, accommodate the financial outlay that those lenses call for. So this will not affect my decision.

          Where Nikon shines and where no other manufacturer offers any lenses is in their 600mm F6.3 and 800mm F6.3's. They are light (for what they are). They are sharp. Their autofocus is fast. Compared to the 400mm F2.8 and 600mm F4 lenses these lenses are well priced. For now, they are still well beyond my budget but one can dream. If a very big and luxurious ship sails in bearing my name these lenses are available. If finances ever permit it, I could see myself getting one of these two lenses, whereas I cannot see myself paying for the 600mm F4 or other branded 800mm (and I am not referring to the F22 kind). The price gap between them is just too huge. There is a clear upgrade path that does not exist in the other brands. This is not a big factor for me since my budget is way too limited but what is of interest to me is that Nikon is positioning themselves in the space that caters to what I shoot and to the kind of equipment that I like (and at a tolerable price).

          So, my final choice then is between Nikon and Sony. Next week I decide what I am going to do. Please tune in.


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