It is a pain to jump cameras. If you have jumped one ship to another - you will know what I mean. I had jumped from the Canon Bandwagon to Nikon and was already reeling from the effects of getting used to. Click me to read about it here. That had been just one year but as I spent more time with birding, photography and living my travel dreams - I saw the replacement camera, aka D500, was a tad short on expectations.
Ummm... Let me start from the beginning. I am primarily a birder who loves to photograph birds. To meet that end a crop sensor, mid-range prosumer or semi-professional DSLR was a perfect fit but with the passage of each day and as I learned more and more about photography I wanted to experiment and found the crop sensor holding me back. When I buy something, it's my mind block related problem that I do research it a fair bit. So when I was to buy a camera for birding - the crop sensor was the thing to pick up. What the crop sensor does is that since the size of the sensor is small - it picks up the centre portion of the image projected by the lens. That has a few advantages, firstly all the softness of the lens that is there in the corners are cropped and the main advantage is that it gives a perceived advantage of further reach. What I mean by reach is that you get more magnification factor.
This magnification factor is not as easy to understand as it seems at first so will help elucidate it further. Let us suppose I have a full frame sensor that is 20 megapixels and a crop sensor of 20 megapixels. Now if I place the sensors on top of each other then this is how the size differential is as shown in Figure 1.
Now if I use the same lens and click photograph of a bird sitting at a distance - like I did in the picture using a 500mm lens, you will appreciate that the crop sensor sees the picture smaller and when I bring the picture to see it on my computer I see both of them as shown in Figure 3 with full frame sensor and Figure 4 as with crop sensor.
This is the most important reason why a wildlife photographer (particularly those photographing birds) wants to go in for a Crop sensor camera. I am sure that countless bird photographers and enthusiasts would swear that they do not have the lens big enough to come close enough to the birds. No one I have met has been a satisfied birder.
Notice that in Figure 1 I have written APS-c Nikon. Why I needed to specify Nikon was that the full frame sensor size is a norm - it is equivalent to the 35mm film area of yesteryears and is always equal to 36mm by 24 mm, whereas the crop factor of Sony, Nikon and Canon varies a wee bit and produces a bit different results. For example, the Nikon crop sensor camera has an x Factor of 1.5 so the reach of a 500 mm lens would be 1.5 times 500 mm = 750 mm in actual. So the bird photographers satisfy themselves by using a crop sensor and psychologically saying that they are carrying a bigger lens than what they actually are.
|Figure 1: The relative size of sensors, full frame & Crop sensor|
The debate actually does not end here. There is a school that says that I can click a picture with full frame camera with 500 mm lens and then crop it to get the frame that a crop sensor has produced. Well, this is true and not true at the same moment. True because the noise and clarity of full frame is generally better than that of Crop sensor and not true - will let me say, like in the example above that We were both using full frame and a crop sensor of 20 Megapixels, then cropping the picture will give you lesser than 20 megapixels, nearer to 8.56 megapixels. (the formula is a ratio of Crop sensor to full frame sensor multiplied by the megapixel of full frame).
The full frame has some other advantages, the sensor has lesser noise, better iso performance, a wider colour gamut and so on. I would just leave that at that.
|Figure 2: This is how each sensor sees the same picture |
with the same lens and the same distance
All things considered equal, in my past birding trips to numerous places in India and Abroad I come across birders with crop sensors and others with full frame sensors and the truce prevailed. There was however always a nagging doubt in my mind if this is the whole story or am I dancing to the tunes of perpetrators of crime - those who were feeding this to me that was not the whole truth. One other fact that nagged me always was that there were times that I wanted to click pictures that were not of birds, like some monument, a night sky, some street that I liked and I thought to myself - ahh, I wish I had a full frame.
Being a middle-class working guy, I do not have the luxury to have multiple cameras for all that I desire to photograph so it always boiled down to having a single camera, come sun come rain. Second very important consideration to me was that I was travelling for birding and every bit or pound of gear is a fresh fight in the airports with new restrictions cropping up every day and the fact that I will have to lug it all on my back.
|Figure 3: The output from the full frame camera sensor|
Well here is what I dreamt - I wanted a crop sensor camera that I can use for birding but has the performance of a full frame, a full frame sensor camera for everything else. Nikon had this thing in its old full frame cameras that could use the crop sensor area if you so decide to do it. But being of a lower megapixel count - like in the example above it was not a great option.
|Figure 4: The output from the Crop camera sensor|
When the Nikon launched its D850 there were some things about it that made me think again about replacing my D500, a crop frame sensor camera with D850. The sensor was already topping the charts with getting 100% on DXOMark scores. Now came my study of the camera before I made up my mind for sure.
1. First and foremost, an advantage was that the sensor was new - with something called backlit wherein it captures light more efficiently and as a result the low light performance is good and the images are cleaner.
2. Second is its high megapixel count - at 45 megapixels, even cropping down to a Nikon crop Sensor camera like D500 gives me roughly the same count of about 20 megapixels. Not too less than the D500's 20.9 megapixels.
3. Thirdly it has a button and dial combo to use the sensor in different modes that include using it as a crop sensor. The mode is extremely easy to use and change the settings on the fly in the field. That makes the camera available to me as a Crop Sensor camera or a full frame sensor camera. It leaves me with the choice. Why I really need this choice is simple. If I leave the camera in a full frame mode for - let us say bird photography, I get 45 Mb file size, and like most of the professional photo-editing
software like Lightroom or Capture One (that I use) the non-destructive photo editing leaves the picture of this size sitting on my computer for always till eternity. If I click at crop size the file size reduces almost to half and in any case, I am likely to be in most circumstances likely to crop it further for it to get my esthetics of the picture right.
4. Another advantage related to the above point is the fact that in any mode other than full frame, peeking through the viewfinder I have the rest of the area dark but visible. That really makes the framing of moving birds etc very easy.
5. The battery life: the battery life of the D500 was not bad, but then for my foreign trips I decided to buy the camera grip. With D850 I have so far not come across any issue regarding the battery. The camera with Airplane mode off, snapbridge on and about a 1000 odd shots - the battery lasts for the entire day. So, all in all, I have not bought the grip this time and am surviving fine with two batteries.
6. The focus is and acquiring of the birds through the viewfinder are quicker and more accurate than the D500. I am very sure that it is not a perceived notion but you will have to decide for yourself after seeing and using it.
7. The feel of the camera is a great improvement over D500. I did mention it in my last write-up that I did not like it and I meant it. It was not great for my hands and D850 feels much better, infact almost as good as the Canon cameras that I had in the past.
1. I will not say that these are real disadvantages - but some things that trouble me, irrespective of whether they can be rectified or no. The weight is one of those things. It is a beast of a camera, but heavy at that one. In a backpack with a 200-500mm lens, one odd another lens and a tripod (and I have a great travel tripod) the combo can give many a backache. And I have lugged it 10 to 15 km a day in the streets of Venice and Rome and trust me, it was not easy - the sleep also did elude me with my back aching like hell.
2. The snapbridge - works but is still buggy and requires a push to start. on D500 it was a pain, on D850 the situation has definitely improved but still a long way to go for it to be seamless. But trust me it snaps the juice from the camera and the mobile like a hungry hog. I would have really preferred a built-in GPS atleast like Canon 7D mark ii that I used to carry.
3. Finally, not having a remote trigger without the Nikon contraption for the flash is a big no-no for me. At least an inbuilt flash that can remotely trigger an off-camera flash. There is one thing though that I must add. I tried flash photography of birds and inspite of reading, practising and tweaking, it is far from perfect To give it some credit is the fact that the iso performance is good enough to avoid firing a flash compensates it to some limit but still... it is a negative.
Are you a fence-sitting birder who is thinking of whether or not you want a full frame camera - jump on and you will surely discover the photography streak you never thought you had... Okay, I have reached the end of my write-up - now sit back and critically nitpick some of my bird and landscapes with this beast...
|My first birding trip after buying the camera... Rufous Sibia, India|
|Great Egret, Italy|
|Dance of the Great Crested Grebe, Italy|
|Ashy-throated Parrotbill, Italy|
|Eurasian Robin, Italy|
|Reed Bunting, Italy|
|Streets of Vergiate, Italy|
|Dusk photography at Vergiate, Italy|
|Eurasian Robin, Italy|
|Italian Sparrow, Italy|
|White Stork, Italy|
|Not bad for iso 2000 shot, European Blackbird|
|Mute Swan, Italy|
|My wife wandering the streets of Milan|
|On the roof of Duomo, Milan|
|Streets of in Rome|
|Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, birding India|
|White-crested Laugingthrush, India|
|House Sparrow, India|
|Red-billed Leiothrix, India|
I changed this camera just about two-three weeks before my visit to Italy and have not regretted the decision even once other than the topped out credit cards. One of the best camera I have set my hands on and am loving every moment of it. Luckily for me, jumping from D500 to D850 was not bad as the controls, behaviour and the like was not too different.