Which Nikon dSLR should I buy?
February 18, 2007 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Which Nikon dSLR would you recommend for an advanced amateur, and why?

I'm looking for a Nikon dSLR. I will be taking portraits, landscapes, urban scenes, travel photos, and art photos. Sports or action shots really aren't a concern. I'm an advanced amateur, and also a broke-ass grad student, so I can't just buy a new D200 like I wish I could.

I have an N80 film body right now, and with it two nikon AF primes (50/1.8, 28/2.8), which would be nice standard and portrait lenses. I was looking at the D40, as the image quality really is fantastic, on par or better (no, really) than any of the more expensive Nikons that I've looked at (based on the side-by-side image comparator on Imaging Resource... the D40 shots with stock lens really are mindblowing in lack of artifacts and richness of blacks). I also know the D40 won't autofocus my AF primes (which was the subject of a bitter debate yesterday here on AskMeFi). That doesn't bother me so much, as I spent the first several years of my photographic life with an old all-manual AE-1.

In lieu of the D40 and sticking to new cameras, I could afford a D50 body, which isn't too much of a step up (darker smaller viewfinder, smaller LCD screen, single-color histogram) but would AF my AF lenses.

If I wanted to go used, I could get a D70 (not D70s), which would be a bit higher-end than the D50 and has two dials for shutter and aperture for better all-manual control.

I've also been looking at the D100, which is ancient, but still 6MP and formerly a pro-level body. This is the most intriguing option, because it's likely a great camera (and certainly was at the time it was new), but will its age induce longing for newer features?

So if you have experience with the D100, or on multiple of these bodies, let me know what you think. Thanks!
posted by The Michael The to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I should have noted that my price range is $550 max, not including accessories. The D40 is $550 new, D50 is $450 new, D70 is $415 for EX condition, and D100 is ~$450 for EX condition.
posted by The Michael The at 10:01 AM on February 18, 2007

I used a D100 for a few days last year and I can tell you that it is one fine piece of equipment. I think you would do well with this. I still kind of kick myself for not buying that camera.
posted by caddis at 10:26 AM on February 18, 2007

You might want to read up at the excellent KenRockwell.com. He has done writeups on the 40,70,80 and 200. Probably others as well. He's said he uses the 40 and 200 pretty exclusively now, but it's one thing to use a 40 exclusively and another to use it till you feel like you need to switch to the 200....

I like my 80, for what it's worth.
posted by phearlez at 10:40 AM on February 18, 2007

I owned a D70 for almost two years and through it was able to teach myself all the basics and all the fancy tricks I now use in my professional photography. It's got an easy interface, friendly pre-sets, and allows you to go manual once you have the chops. It won a bunch of consumer choice awards in 2004/05 and generally allows you to take excellent photographs even with only a modicum of talent, while you're working up to really understanding the body. If you don't give a crap about what other people (i.e. strangers on the street) think, go with whatever you can afford in this line. However, pro Nikon users look at D40s and D50s and think, "rich amateur", whereas the D70 is the jump-off camera for the next level; the 'back-up' camera in the bag when you're on a shoot or toodling around at home and don't want to pull out the huge mother D200 or DX1. It's completely shallow but if you use Nikon you know the geeks come out of the crowd to paw your equipment and trade stories. I've seen D70s on eBay for cheap - good luck.
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 10:42 AM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have had a D50 for over a year, that does AF with any Nikon AF lens or Nikon compatible AF. I have two Quantarays. I am very happy with it. I used an N65 before and an ancient Nikon 880. Take your camera bag with your lenses and a memory card to to your local shop and try them out in the shop. In any case, D40-D200, you are getting 60 years of Nikon SLR technology, which, I believe is amazing in all of them.
posted by lee at 11:22 AM on February 18, 2007

So if you have experience with the D100, or on multiple of these bodies, let me know what you think. Thanks!

I shot with a D100 for a day before I bought my d70s. It convinced me that dSLRs are legitimate cameras. I still think that it would have made more sense to go back to rangefinders for interchangable lens digicams, but we have dSLRs instead and they are very cheap.

Take a look at DPReview'a comparison chart between the D70 and D100. The main difference is that the d70 is plastic and has a pentamirror, while the D100 is metal and has a prism. In most other respects, the d70 is similar or better. The D100 claims to support boosted ISO 3200 and 6400, but Nikon dSLRs tend to be noisy above ISO 800 (400 if your are really picky), so I wouldn't really call that a feature.

If you don't mind the weight, and can find a cheap D100 and don't care about the extra weight, it should do the job. Judging by the EBay prices, d100s aren't particularly cheap. One that is probably has problems. You may be better off with a used d70, or new old stock d70s.

After reading Ken Rockwell's reviews, check out Thom Hogan's. I find Rockwell to be entertaining, but Hogan seems more informative.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:37 AM on February 18, 2007

That doesn't bother me so much, as I spent the first several years of my photographic life with an old all-manual AE-1.

Keep in mind that the AE-1 had a split-prism screen in the viewfinder. That makes manually focusing a lens much easier than the bright screen found on all modern film and digital SLRs. You can get a split prism screen for the d50, d70, d80, etc. Katz Eye doesn't have a screen for the d40 yet.

Further complicating the MF story is that only the D200 and D2x/D2h can meter through AI/AIS lenses. When I mount an old AIS lens on my d70s, I have to guess at exposure and check with the histogram. If the d40 could meter through AI/AIS lenses, I would take back everything negative I've said about it.

I have an N80 film body right now

Keep in mind that the cost of film will go away once you move to digital.

I was looking at the D40, as the image quality really is fantastic

Keep in mind that the d40 defaults to IIIa color space. You can adjust any of the other Nikon dSLRs to shoot in IIIa if you want.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:12 PM on February 18, 2007

I believe the D70 is destined to be the "classic" body in this series and also represents the best dollar value at this time. I have two, and see nothing in it's newer / bigger brethren to prompt a change. The lenses you chose to work with will have more impact on your shooting experience and results. As I'm sure you're aware, there's some incredible Nikon glass out there on the used market: for example the fantastic for indoors low-light AF 35-70 2.8 zoom and optically top-performing AF 180 2.8 prime become a 50-105 zoom and 270 prime on the digital body. Both are available for a few hundred and match up with the D70 beautifully.
posted by scheptech at 1:01 PM on February 18, 2007

Crap, I just wrote and then lost a long post about this.

Long story short: I am shopping in the same sort of way and came down to the D40. Once I got over the 10MP lust (sour grapes, I can't afford them anyway), and went and held a D50 and D70, the decision became easy. The D40 is the smallest and lightest, which is good for me since I'm a girrrl. The viewfinder is the biggest and brightest. The lack of focusing motor is no problem--my plan is to slum it with the kit lens until that 18-200 VR lens comes back, by which time I hope to be able to afford it.

I have an old film Nikon and some nice lenses, but since they're AI-S type I wouldn't be able to autofocus with them (not a big deal, especially when the split prism screen comes out) or meter through them (bigger deal), that wasn't really an issue.
posted by bink at 6:16 PM on February 18, 2007

Keep in mind that most comparisons of image quality of the 6MP Nikons is done on JPGs straight out of camera. Naturally the noise reduction in camera keeps getting better so the later ones look better here. Also the more consumer-oriented ones have more consumery colour profiles chosen by default.
However it seems likely to me that the differences if you are shooting in RAW would be minimal, though I haven't seen any actual comparison done this way (if anyone knows of one I'd love to see it!).
So given that it'd make sense to compare based on other features, such as the built-in focus motor (essential if you want to use most of the prime lenses such as the very popular 50mm 1.8). I wouldn't buy the D40 because of that missing feature alone...
The D70s has two adjustment dials for focus and aperture (that's the one feature I really miss on the D50...). It can also act as a wireless commander for SB-600/800 speedlights.

If I was buying one on ebay today, I'd go for the D70s given the prices are not much higher than D50. I might update soon actually...
posted by Morbuto at 9:20 AM on February 19, 2007

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