The last 12 months has seen me dig deep and invest heavily in new Nikon kit. I've gone from a setup with two DX-sensored cameras (D2X and D200) to one DX (D300) and one FX (D3) body. I've also traded in my DX-only 12-24mm f/4 lens for the FX-compatible 14-24mm f/2.8... and added a 24-70mm f/2.8.
These are sensible, rational choices in many ways. Compared with my previous setup, this is what I've gained:
- better high ISO
- higher frame rates and snappier handling all round
- vastly improved AF performance covering most of the frame
- even better high ISO
- even higher frame rates
- the same vastly improved AF, albeit with smaller frame coverage
- genuine 14mm wide angle
The new lenses are superb on either body, delivering more detail - even wide open - than any zoom has a right to.
At the same time, my life has got frustratingly more complicated. With a DX-based system a single set of lenses would perform the same function on both bodies - rather like the days of 35mm film, only with some adjustments to angle of view. Now if I take two bodies along I need to consider which lenses perform which roles on each body. In effect, I have to make more decisions and more compromises. I'm tending to carry more bulk and weight.
My lens collection is a mish-mash built up over nearly 13 years:
- 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye: replaces the 16mm fisheye
- 50-150mm f/2.8: performs the same role as the 80-200mm f/2.8, but it's smaller and lighter
- 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5: my DX 'standard' zoom is light and surprisingly sharp
- 50-200mm f/4-5.6 VR: compact, light and surprisingly capable
FX and DX:
- 16mm f/2.8 fisheye: does what it says on the tin
- 24mm f/2.8: seldom used now, this 20+ year old lens was one of my first
- 50mm f/1.8: plastic build and clunky manual focus, but it's very sharp
- 85mm f/1.4: works as a good short telephoto on DX and gets pulled out for available light shooting
- 135mm f/2: bought as a smaller, lighter alternative to the 80-200mm. Seldom used now
- 200mm f/2: 300mm equivalent on DX and a brilliant portrait lens, but extremely big and heavy
- 14-24mm f/2.8: wide on DX and ultra-wide on FX
- 17-35mm f/2.8: brought out of semi-retirement, the front element is less exposed than the 14-24mm
- 24-70mm f/2.8: plugs the gap between 24mm and 80mm on FX
- 80-200mm f/2.8: old faithful telephoto; too big, heavy and long for most uses on DX
Phew. Are you confused yet? Because I am.
In effect, I now have two completely separate primary setups - one optimised for a blend of performance with an eye on bulk and weight, and the other simply all-out best-possible-of-everything-and-screw-the-consequences-for-my-posture:
DX: high performance, low bulk, middling weight
- D300 body
- 10.5mm f/2.8
- 14-24mm f/2.8
- 50-150mm f/2.8
This is the setup that accompanies me on middling to longish rides. It's flexible enough that I can cover almost any eventuality without being paralysed by too much choice - the lack of a mid-range zoom is deliberate, since most of my shooting tends to either wide or long. It's not exactly light, but it's light enough that I can cope with carrying this all day on the bike. Just.
FX: high performance, takes up a lot of space, weighs what it weighs (too much!)
- D3 body
- 16mm f/2.8
- 14-24mm f/2.8
- 24-70mm f/2.8
- 80-200mm f/2.8
This is getting too big and heavy to ride with for any distance, but that's no surprise - when I shot film with F5s I was faced with a similar problem (and a couple of the lenses were exactly the same).
(I also have an ultra-lightweight kit that occasionally gets some use, though mostly not for paying work:
- 10.5mm f/2.8
- 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5
- 50-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
This gives me much of the flexibility of my D300 kit but in a smaller and significantly lighter package. I do also take big hits on high ISO performance, frame rate and AF flexibility, though).
What's dropped out of these kits is the 200mm f/2, which simply doesn't seem to fit (literally, in the sense of in the bag, and figuratively, in the sense of having a role) into these setups. That's a shame, because it really is a phenomenal lens that deserves to have more use.
What I'm discovering is that making a partial switch from DX to FX isn't quite as straigtforward as I imagined. Although I already had most of the lenses, the logistics of running two different formats side by side is making almost every decision about what to take with me more complicated. For example, I have a shoot coming up that will start late afternoon and run into dusk and beyond. The D3 has better low light performance, so on the face of it that's the better choice. But the shoot also involves nearly 3000 vertical feet of ascent and will cover a fair distance... so perhaps the D300 would be a better compromise?
By now you'll probably be thinking 'buy a D700!'. Seems obvious, doesn't it? Nearly as small and light as the D300 with most of the performance advantages of the D3. Except that I'd have to use the 80-200mm instead of the 50-150mm, which would actually add weight.
It'll become more obvious how all this will pan out over the next year or so. For now, I'm trying to reduce the complexity of the decision-making process by sticking to my basic DX/FX kits and deciding at the outset which one is best for any given job. But I do miss the days of single format decision-making, when the lens options were essentially the same and the most difficult decision was whether to take the smaller, lighter, slower camera body... or the bigger, heavier faster one. KISS (keep it simple, stupid) is a good way to prevent the distraction of gear choice interfering with the process of actually taking pictures...
Not enough detail for you? Thom Hogan has an in-depth look at the complexities of lens choice (with a bias towards the Nikon system) here.