Love at first touch.
My first serious money I spent on a camera was in 2009. I bought a Nikon D700. It is one fine camera even a decade later. This is thanks in part to Nikon’s tireless effort to find some of the best sensors around and build cameras for photographers. It was a $3000 purchase so one would expect it to hold up for some time. Then again, with how quickly technology changes, ten years is a long time.
A testament to its greatness, I actually never upgraded from it. I still shoot with it to this day. In fact, the Nikon D700 is still used by many—it was a camera used for several World Press Photo award winning photographs.
However, anyone who knows or follows me also knows that I really love Micro Four Thirds as a format. My cameras of choice in that family: Olympus E-M5, Olympus E-M1 Mark II. Both rival many cameras of thousands of dollars more. They are small, weather sealed, light, powerful, and fun to use. I recently shot using my Olympus system for a friend’s wedding, iPhone 8 and iPhone X launch at Apple Michigan Avenue, and many of my Geometry photographs were shot using my E-M5 or E-M1 Mark II.
My Nikon digital 35mm (FX) camera, love was never wavering. But the Nikon D700—it is a beast of a camera. Weighing in at nearly 1000g (2.2lbs) without a lens—it is also a boat anchor. I joke with friends and colleagues that I only shoot with it if I’m getting paid. That isn’t entirely accurate… one of my favorite photos, Gold and Aquamarine, was shot with my Nikon D700 and the ever impressive 70-200mm f2.8 VRII.
The point being, I love Micro Four Thirds and use it because Olympus (among others like Panasonic) have made the system powerful and feature filled yet mobile. I fell in love with the E-M5 and travel with it everywhere. My highest end camera loyalty is, however, really to Nikon. The story of how I came to own my D700 was more like something out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I did not choose the D700, it chose me. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down and that is important. A photographer needs to love his camera. It is a tool and an extension of his creativity and mind’s eye.
The ergonomics of the D700 were so much better than what I was consider buying (Canon 5D Mark II) and its low light noise performance was the best at the time. It didn’t shoot video, like the 5Dmk2 did, but I wanted a camera for photography and owned or had plenty of access to cinema cameras. I never regretted that decision. Even with new cameras, the D700 has been such a creative companion that long after it becomes obsolete, I’ll have it as a token, a monument to years of hard work.
My Olympus, on the other hand, sits right across from me as I write this story. With a grip, fantastic M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens, and a turquoise blue couchguitarstraps strap, it will make its way out into the world soon for some photography. But for now, I needed an upgrade, and something to spark a new creative endeavor.
With 2017 wrapped months ago and A Year in Photographs ended, I had considered for some time what camera it was time to upgrade. Was it time for a D700 replacement? See what Olympus has in store for the O-MD series (E-M5 and E-M1)?
I don’t know what came over me but I suddenly knew I needed the Nikon D500. Something was telling me it was the right move for a camera. I’ve had my eye on it for some time. But as with my instinct on the D700 drove me to buy and the same with the E-M5, this must be the right move.
Other considerations were the Nikon D810 or newly released D850. I do want to own those but at the end of the day, they are more than I wanted to spend and all that extra resolution is not terribly important to me. They are FX sensors, however and therefore really are the next logical step to a D700.
Some have asked, “Why not a D750?” To be fair, having intimate experience with the D700 and D810, the D750 may have the ‘700’ numerical value but it is not the replacement to the D700. The D8XX has the same feel, look, weight, and powerhouse features that the D700 did in its day. As a comparison, in 2009, the D700 was the flagship, non-integrated vertical grip, FX camera for Nikon. Today the D8XX is the same. The D750 is a superb camera but maybe one small step below.
The Nikon D500 has been reveled as the best APS-C (DX). Its high-ISO performance is stunning. Its 10 frames per second puts it in a class similar to a Nikon D4 but with the resolution for the Nikon D5 (the ultimate in Nikon performance.) And that is part of the D500’s charm. How could I turn my back on FX sensors? They are superior because they are bigger! I have always argued that is a false assumption. It is a good rule of thumb but not a guarantee. Your lens is your most important camera accessory but that is for another article.
Nikon has made the D500 is in the class of FX cameras. In fact, the performance is likely partly due to the DX sensor. While sensors of different sizes have their advantages and disadvantages, at the end of the day, I’ve shots with more than a dozen formats and it is, overall, a non-issue. FX, DX, Micro Four Thirds, 1/2”, 2/3”, super35, medium format, iPhone, 1-inch, etc.—let me tell you something, and I’m not going to apologize for it, the sensor behind your lens does not determine anything. You do. You are the photographer. Any other argument is a construct of your mind—dogma from a thousand other photographers out there who can’t see beyond the technical specifications of the camera in their hand.
If you can’t afford a Nikon D850 (or just don’t want to move that kind of cash) don’t. Get a Nikon D500. Or a D7200. Or a D3400 (it’s around $400). Or use your iPhone. Just go out and shoot!
I choose the D500 for a good price point, blistering performance on multiple fronts, and knowing that it will be a workhouse. Correction, a god damned battleship of a camera. I will be able to take it out in the rain, walk through the desert with it, a blizzard, concerts, film shoots, in the air, underground, all over the planet, drag it through the mud, and it will still fire and capture exactly what I see just as my D700 did for nearly ten years.
As I write this, I pick up my D500 for the first time and already recognize, I’m gonna love this camera.