I’ve been looking at DSLRs for years now, wishing I could afford to buy one, and I’ve spent a ton of time researching and comparing brands and models. My immediate intent was to find a good camera to help Jen ease back into photography, especially after all her film from Ireland Italy was expensively misprocessed and the liars at Ritz Camera tried to tell us it was the fault of the airport x-ray machinery. (They didn’t even offer to comp us on the processing. Stay away from Ritz.)

After I got several good-sized paychecks in hand this fall, I paid off some bills, put a chunk in the bank, and started hunting seriously for her camera. The reviews seemed to be pretty even in favor of each brand, which didn’t help me much. I’ve been a proponent of Canon since I bought my G3, and I love the simplicity of their menu/UI systems. The manuals are top-notch, the support is superb, and the camera itself has been bombproof. However, the DSLRs Canon offers in my price range feel cheap and plasticky in my hands, like they were put together with Legos and a hot glue gun. When I picked up a Nikon, it felt real in my hands, like a film SLR does, and that felt reassuring and good. After some exhaustive research, I finally gave up and took this guy’s advice, buying a new D50 kit for a delayed birthday present. I think she’s happy with it, and I was impressed with it when I held it in my hands. It’s a solid camera, the lens is fantastic, and it takes beautiful pictures.

As fate would have it, an older D70 came up on Craigslist a few weeks later for a very reasonable price, and I bought it. I’ve been playing with it slowly ever since. It’s been a little hard because I only got the body—the seller wanted to keep the expensive lens for his new D80, so I needed something to use in the meantime. As it turns out, Nikon hasn’t changed their basic lens mount in ages, so later-model Nikon lenses will fit newer DSLRs, at the cost of some of the advanced features. Jen has a Nikon N65 film SLR, and I’ve borrowed her Quantaray NF AF 28-80mm lens to learn the camera. The pictures are clear but the contrast is low, which I’m guessing is due to the lens not being made specifically for DSLR cameras, and the lens not talking properly to the camera. I’ve yet to do a side-by-side lens comparison, but I’m trying to block out some time to try.

My biggest worry was the UI setup: I’m a usability snob, so this is a big sticking point for me. I’m finding the Nikon menu system different from Canon’s but not impossible to understand: a philosophical difference. Canon makes everything available from the selector wheel (the multi-directional circle on the back) and adds several modifier buttons based on the model of camera—the UI on my G3 isn’t fundamentally different than Jen’s Powershot 100. Nikon makes certain things available from the selector wheel but adds combinations of buttons to access special features, like an arcade fighting game. When taken to the extreme, this gets ridiculously hard to remember and physically challenging to accomplish. (This was why I detested the abominable Coolpix 4500, and the reason I took a G3 underwater in Bimini instead.)

I’m finding, though, that the D70 is far easier to use than the 4500, and now that I’ve begun to understand the UI philosophy, it’s beginning to make sense to me. The difference in organization means I have much rewiring to do in my brain in order to take advantage of the camera’s features. I’ve been dicking around with the automated settings and learning the modifiers to them so that I can eventually move into the manual modes and try to remember the aperture/shutter speed math of my SLR days.

One thing that made life easier was a firmware upgrade, bringing the menu system up from the 1.3 factory installation to a 2.0 version—almost identical to that of Jen’s newer D50. This, at first glance, is a huge improvement and worth the time.

Overall, I’m pleased with the decision and excited to get further into the camera. I think the decision to go Nikon was a good one, and I’d recommend these two camera models to anyone.

Date posted: November 28, 2006 | Filed under art/design | Comments Off on Enter the Nikon.

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