A better camera, or better lenses?
December 8, 2009 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Help me get the most bang for my photography buck: I own a Nikon D50. I've been finding the D90 priced around $700 online with rebates (sometimes refurbished, but sometimes new). I was ready to buy... but then I wondered: would I be wiser to spend the money on new lenses instead?

I bought my D50 with the kit combo of DX 18-55 mm and DX 55-200 mm lenses (neither of them are VR, sadly). I also picked up a used Tamron 28-300, which has a great range, but isn't exactly a sharp lens.

I'm wondering if $700 is too good of a price to pass up for a D90, or if I'd do better to spend that money on lenses? And, if the latter, which lenses would you recommend to compliment or improve on what I already own?

A bit more potentially useful info:

As I mentioned in my previous question here, I'm legally blind, so autofocus is my highest priority for a camera or a lens. I can capture what I want using a viewfinder, but manually focus? Not a chance.

I'd like to be able to do macro photography at some point. For example, I wanted to be able to capture shots of these tiny gears but couldn't.

I don't do any sports or action photography.
posted by 2oh1 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd probably go with the D90. The live view feature will let you zoom in on the image and get acceptable focus manually (I'm assuming if you can use a viewfinder, you can determine focus on the LCD if it's zoomed?) - doing any macro work with autofocus is treacherous at best.
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:17 PM on December 8, 2009

It's pretty well accepted that money is always better spent on lenses than on camera bodies. Since the pace of technology moves a lot faster in bodies than lenses, you'll find your camera body becoming obsolete much quicker. Where a body might get replaced every three years or so, your lenses can last a very long time and not become obsolete.

That said, a D50 is probably at or past the age at which a lot of people would consider replacement. So, unless you're reasonably certain that your camera's got a lot of life left in it, I would probably recommend the new body as well. It sounds like you've got some lenses that are at least acceptable to you, and they'll work just fine on the D90.

So, to me, it sounds like you've already started to make the long-term investments by starting your lens collection. For better or for worse, your lenses you own now have a lot more life in them than your D50.
posted by The Potate at 4:45 PM on December 8, 2009

i also own a d50, and an ex had a d90. in my opinion having used both, a d90 isn't a big enough step up as an upgrade- i'm saving my pennies for a d300 instead. btw, with my d50, i've got a really fantastic sigma 50mm macro lens and it's awesome! if you aren't doing sports or action photography, and if noise level doesn't bother you, i'd stay stick with the d50 and just improve your lens collection.
posted by raw sugar at 4:50 PM on December 8, 2009

find a copy of the 50mm f1.8 lens and a reversing ring (Together, should be less than $150.)

I took this and this and this with that combination.
posted by pjern at 4:51 PM on December 8, 2009

buy a lens. a 700 dollar lens will make your photos a lot nicer than upgrading to a better sensor. Maybe consider a prime lens as that will be much higher quality than a zoom generally.

Unless you're upgrading to a larger format sensor there is very little reason to upgrade your camera body (noise is one good reason you might want to). As pixel size decreases diffraction becomes more of an issue and you don't gain anything from upping the resolution of the sensor if you are shooting past f11ish.
posted by Large Marge at 5:15 PM on December 8, 2009

The D90 has a much better noise profile than the D50. If you're shooting mainly in daylight, at still subjects, then you might be better served by some sort of glass. If you shoot lots of low light, it's a toss up between a fast lens and the D90. I think that the D90 can be a worthwhile upgrade from the D50, and I am considering it when i get the $$.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 5:31 PM on December 8, 2009

I'll just chime in to say that a lens will give you more bang for your buck than a camera body. And I'd like to add that a flash will give you more bang for your buck than a lens. I couldn't have done this without the control that a flash allows.

If it's macro you want, I'd get a decent macro lens (maybe one of these) and a used Nikon flash. You can read up on lighting at Strobist. Start with Lighting 101. It's mostly not geared specifically to macro, but the concepts will all translate. You can use sheets of paper to bounce and diffuse your light. Macro studios are tiny, and thus cheap!
posted by echo target at 6:13 PM on December 8, 2009

Lenses are a better place to spend your money than on camera bodies, IMO. Unless there is a really compelling feature in a new body, I would stick with the one you have and spend the money on glass.

Lenses go obsolete much more slowly (if at all) than digital camera bodies. Nikon is very good about backwards-compatibility with new bodies, so it is very likely that the lenses you buy today will be good for years to come, if not decades. I do not think you can say the same thing about a new body. So I'd think of it this way: the same $700 spent on lenses gets amortized out across a much longer period (and consequently, many more shoots where you get to have the option of using it) than $700 spent on a new body.

The significant features on the D90 seem to be the increased resolution (12MP versus 6MP), video, and live preview. It's really up to you whether any of those features are worth shelling out for.

My guess is that you're going to see dramatic improvements in video capabilities in the next generation or two of DSLRs, so I wouldn't buy on that basis (unless you are really dying to be an early adopter). So with that taken out of consideration, it's mostly the resolution and live preview. I don't personally find either that compelling given your lens selection (I think you'd get more out of some faster, sharper glass than just putting 2x as many pixels behind the same lenses), but it's ultimately a personal thing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:15 PM on December 8, 2009

Clarification: When I said that "Nikon is very good about backwards-compatibility with new bodies" what I meant was "Nikon is very good, when releasing new bodies, to make them backwards-compatible with existing lenses." I.e., they are aware that many of their customers have large investments in lenses, and don't go screwing around with the lens mount too often.

They do occasionally change things (generally in the electrical connections) which can make using older lenses a PITA if you like auto-focus and auto-exposure, but you will get a few generations' worth of bodies out of a new lens, in most cases.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:18 PM on December 8, 2009

In terms of your camera, a guy I respect, Thom Hogan, notes the following for people thinking about upgrading their D50:

You have to consider why you're unhappy. If it's just more features and pixels you want, the D5000 is your choice. If you just want more pixels, the D3000 is a consideration. If you're ready to make a big leap in functionality (and complexity), then a D90 or D300s might be reasonable choices....

In light of this, I'd seriously consider getting this inexpensive 35mm 1.2 DX lens. All of the lenses that you have listed have apertures that start out pretty small and get smaller as you zoom in. This is constraining your ability to use a key tool in the photographer's toolbox, shallow depth of field. The lens I'm suggesting is not too expensive, will let you practice with DoF, and is sharp. What's more, you'll be able to shoot indoors more easily than before.

The 50mm pjern suggests is a nice alternative. Owning the 50mm myself, the length makes it a bit hard to take pictures with it indoors (but that might just be because I am trying to photograph people while living in a place small rooms).
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 9:53 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Keep the D50. You'll have way more fun with flash and lenses. Start reading the Strobist blog and you will forget all about that new body.

For $700-ish you could get

a very reasonable flash system ($250) that includes stand, umbrella, filters, etc.

and have money left over for a lens such as:
a very decent 14-24mm superwide zoom (Tokina 12-24mm for example, $500)
the venerable Nikon f/1.8 85mm, $500
that sweet new Nikon f/1.8 35mm for $200
and the classic Nikon f/1.8 50mm for $100
and some more lighting toys (a good reflector is always helpful)
posted by conrad53 at 10:46 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The reversing ring is interesting, but I'm going to have to ask what might be an obvious question: Why doesn't anyone make a reverse version of the lens that can autofocus? ...or am I missing something?
posted by 2oh1 at 10:42 AM on December 9, 2009

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