Upgrade choice: Lens or Body?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Ryan1524, Apr 12, 2009.

  1. Ryan1524 macrumors 68000


    Apr 9, 2003
    Canada GTA
    I need your help to decide what to do first. I know most people consider lenses more important than the body, but I'm just not sure anymore, at least for my case. Which would you upgrade first?

    I currently have a D70s. I shot mostly urban-life or street photography and portraits at events/parties or random scenes around campus or downtown areas.

    I was contemplating getting a 17-55mm f2.8 to augment my 35mm f2 on event/party/nightclub work. I rented this for an assignment once, and it was brilliant - Loved it.
    Or for a completely different line of work/fun, a Tokina/Sigma in the 50-150 range. Some people have recommended the old Nikkor 80-200 AF-D or the Sigma 70-200 HSM. I'd love to get the 70-200VR, but it quote outside my budget.

    On the other hand, my biggest gripe with my camera body is noise and AF speed. It just seems 'dumb'. Sometimes it would lock on very quickly, other times it would focus-hunt, swinging from short to infinity 4-5 times before locking on. Worse yet, this sometimes happen on objects that it has obviously successfully locked on before with no problems, or on things that have decent contrast for the AF computer. What I mean by that is, it would inconsistently confuse itself, while at other times it can focus on dark/difficult things fine. On top of that, the doubling of Megapixel and smarter metering and focusing system would be a very useful upgrade to me.

    My target is the D300 (or D400 if it comes out in the next 2-4 months). D700 would be lovely, but too $$$.

    So which would you upgrade first? The body or the lens? Should I stick with a slower body and just get the lenses first? At least I get to work more flexibly, albeit slow, if I have the lenses. Any advice is appreciated.
  2. wheelhot macrumors 68020

    Nov 23, 2007
  3. Abstract macrumors Penryn


    Dec 27, 2002
    Location Location Location
    Are you shooting in the dark often?

    If you're shooting in indoor parties and nightclubs, then the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 and Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 are too big. I wouldn't use those in such venues. The Sigma 50-150 mm is already a bit big, but I'd say it's more suitable. The 17-55 mm f/2.8 is even MORE suitable for your work, I think. You'd probably have to use a flash anyway.

    Anyway, I'd personally go for the body. Lenses help, but if you already have trouble focusing with a 35 mm f/2, then focusing will be even worse when using an f/2.8 lens, since your camera gets even LESS light to work with while focusing (lenses open as wide as they can when focusing, then close down to your aperture setting later). What's the point of a new lens if you're not even getting shots in focus? :confused: Only a new camera with a more advanced AF system with a more sensitive centre AF point is going to help with focusing and noise.

    Lenses are usually the way to go, but you own a D70s, I think the camera would help you more.
  4. Ryan1524 thread starter macrumors 68000


    Apr 9, 2003
    Canada GTA
    Yes, I do shoot in the dark often. I agree with you about the lens thing. I always tell people to buy lenses, and forget about the body, but that's when they have >2yr old bodies and cheap lenses.

    My current line-up:
    35mm f2
    50mm f1.8
    85mm f1.8
    18-70mm (kit)

    11-16mm f2.8

    I figure I have two routes for lenses:
    -17-55mm f2.8 to serve the nightclub photography (May explore 3rd party options. I've seen some decent Sigma, Tokina or Tamron offerings in the same focal range, also at f2.8). I'm not getting paid yet, still 'working' with people/friends for free. Trying to build a client base.

    -50-150 or 70-200 f2.8 for street photography and occasional sports or action photography. This is still an area of new exploration for me. I've only recently started to dive into this length with my 85mm (gift from uncle). I'm finding a lot of things to do in this area, and want More of the longer range.

    My issues with the body: Focus hunt, Noise, AF accuracy, metering accuracy. From what I can tell, the D300 should be able to fix these to a good extent. D700 would be great for my nightclub work, but it's too expensive. On the last event, with a 17-55mm f2.8(rented), I gave up completely on Aperture priority setting, and moved to complete manual, I find the lighting in the club to be beyond hopeless for my D70s to predict, so I dialed in a setting and adjust them slightly throughout the night depending on where I was. I got the shots, but it was a constant fiddling and changing settings the entire night. Is there something I could've done differently, or was this just me hitting the low-light limitations of the D70s?

    De-stressing for an exam study session....:p

  5. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    are your shutter speeds fast enough to lose a stop for a zoom? as for metering, no camera will do it better than you can.

    i'm leaning towards camera right now, and/or a fast 20-24mm prime.
  6. Ryan1524 thread starter macrumors 68000


    Apr 9, 2003
    Canada GTA
    I used the 17-55 last time with my D70s, it was manageable. Of course if I can bump the ISO slightly, it would help. Most places seem to agree that the D300 has less noise at high ISO than its predecessors. But I've also read some people saying the noise is nicer on the D70s - or at least comparable to D200 and D40. Anybody here who have used both? How was it for you?

    For nightclub shots, I'm mostly dragging my shutter while filling in the people with flash anyway. So I don't think losing that one f-stop is such a bad thing. I'm already shooting at 1/30 or 1/50. On the other hand, that lens is also brilliant to play with anywhere else outside the club.

    This is hard, I was dead set on getting a camera last night, but after reading some noise comparisons between the D300 and D70s, I'm iffy again. If I'm buying, it'll only be for EXPEED and the increased focus area, and other features - hopefully faster AF.
  7. Rockies Photo macrumors newbie

    Jan 8, 2008
    How about a D90? Its' essentially a D300, in many aspects & feature wise. You can save some money, buying used on the various photo forum boards, so you can better spread your monies.

    When it comes to shooting clubs, I always shoot Manual. Aperture & Shutter priorities tend to hunt too much. By staying in Manual, you have the maximum amount of versatility & control of your settings.
  8. CrackedButter macrumors 68040


    Jan 15, 2003
    51st State of America
    Upgrade the body if you're having focusing issues surely?
  9. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    When you double the number of megapixels the size of a print at same DPI gos up by a factor of 1.41 (The square root of 2) If you need these larger prints then you need more pixels. If you are only publishing your work on the web or shooting for display on an electronic screen then even your D70S' 6MP is more than you need. I'd say the only reason to buy more pixels is if you need to more from 10 inch to 14 inch prints.

    As for AF speed this is determined by the lens as much as the body. The camera will focus faster with an f/2.8 lens then with an f/5.6 lens as the sensor will get much more light. Also the camera will focus faster with am AF-S lens then with an AF-D because the lens's motor is faster then the body's motor. So you might try an AF-S f/2.8 lens first to see if that gives you what you want.

    The other "trick" to prevent focus hunting is to put you hand on the focus ring. All AF-S lenses have manual focus over ride and you don't have to flip a switch

    It's funny how years ago before there where any auto-focus cameras no one ever complained about focus problems, everyone got sharp, in-focus images back then. Yes, it's true. Focus hunting and glitches where the camera would lock onto the microphone stand rather then the performer's face just never happend. But now with AF the percentage of OOF shots has actually gone up.

    If you keep your hand on the focus ring you can prevent the camera from re-focusing. If you know the subject has not moved there is no need to focus again. and if you know the subject has moved then you can estimate how far and move the ring exactly that amount. It's really not hard to do.
  10. mrgreen4242 macrumors 601


    Feb 10, 2004
    That's incorrect. Not all AF-S lenses have instant AF override - lots do, but not all. You have to look at the lens focus selection switch and see if it says AF/M or AF-M/M. The D40 kit lens, for example, does NOT have instant AF override. Be careful because you can damage the lens that way. Saw a badly busted lens on demo at Circuit City before; it wouldn't AF correctly at, just hunt back and forth and then finally give up and focus at infinity.
    One part of this is the focus screen of most dSLR's are pretty subpar to the old split-screen microprism focus screens you have on cameras where it was expected you'd be focusing by hand. This makes a pretty big difference.
  11. anubis macrumors 6502a

    Feb 7, 2003
    I clicked on this thread ready to quickly blast out a reply that lenses are always a better bet than bodies...

    However after I read through the whole thread, I'm not as sure... It's a bit of a toss-up!

    A little while ago, I got a decent amount of money to photograph a wedding. At the time, I was sporting a Canon Rebel XT (350D), a 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 and a 50mm f1.8. I was really hurting for range on the short end and the long end, as well as a faster aperture, but I was also getting annoyed with my camera (tiny preview screen, very slow burst rate, too small in my large hands, too difficult to quickly change ISO and flash exposure compensation, etc). I decided to spend my money on a used Canon 40D (got a great deal on ebay) as well as a used Canon 10-22mm f3.5-4.5.

    If I had gotten less money and was forced to choose between the body and the lens, I would have gone for the lens. Glass is far more important to image quality than the body, and I was really hurting for a wide angle lens. However, my lens lineup was far less impressive than yours currently is. Aside from your kit, you've got some quality pieces there. 90% of the time, new glass is a better choice.. but if I was you, I'd probably want to go with a new body UNLESS you think there's a good chance you'll want or need to sell your equipment within the next couple of years... lenses hold their resale value much better than bodies
  12. Ryan1524 thread starter macrumors 68000


    Apr 9, 2003
    Canada GTA
    I feel that the D90 is not enough of a jump to justify the $1000, whereas the D300 (or possibly D400) is definitely worth its money. But money may force me to re-evaluate.

    About Manual shooting, I'm finding that my camera lives on M more and more lately. When I first started, I learned to trust the camera, because there is 100 years of photography programmed into it, after all. But I guess nothing beats human brains in difficult situations.

    As for the lenses, I know that AF-D is not going to be as fast as AF-S. But the focusing still has to be calculated in the Body. I figured the newer chips are much better at this than D70s, which was more of a pioneer gear. Is this true - Anybody noticed a difference in AF speed or accuracy in this sort of an upgrade?
  13. Knomad macrumors newbie

    Dec 24, 2008
    North Coast, California
    Like others, I'm usually a fan of upgrading lenses. But you're a special case, because you have a fairly old body and you have a fast prime lens... much less common these days.

    I began my digital shooting about 5 years ago with a D100 body and hated it. Cheap construction/plastic body... I was always afraid I'd break the camera, was afraid to bring it out in a drizzle... tiny dim viewfinder, inability to meter with my old manual focus lenses, and it rendered skin tones in an un-natural way.

    Then a little less than a year ago I got a D300, and it's addressed pretty much all of my issues with digital. Metal frame, well sealed... I can, and have, banged it around and used it on rainy days... a much better viewfinder (and photography is after all about seeing, so it's pretty important to be able to see), and it works with all my lenses. If I have one residual complaint, it's that DSLR viewfinders in general aren't designed for manual focus, mostly a function of the type of ground glass, and I shoot a lot in low light with a fast Zeiss 50mm manual focus lens. But overall I'm very happy with the camera. And it's also faster and meters more accurately and renders skin tones the way they should look.

    If you want to save a few $$$ there are still some demo or lightly used D200 bodies floating around, at half the price of a D300, and with most of the same features. That would get you a nice upgrade and still let you save for the lens a little sooner. Or you can wait for the D400 and see if they cut the D300 price at that time.

    Note that I shoot most of the time with one prime lens, even though I have other lenses I don't use them a lot. A compact lightweight package is more important to me than carrying an array of lenses, and I was taught by one of my mentors that it's best to use one lens for a year or more, learn it's every nuance, before moving on to another one. And I still shoot a lot of film with a rangefinder, so my philosophy isn't necessarily a widespread one.
  14. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    Adding megapixels may increase noise, I'd seriously advise you to rent the body you're considering purchasing and shooting in low-light conditions prior to going all out. What you're describing isn't focusing speed, its focusing accuracy and it's *highly* dependent on the contrast of your subject- if you're not getting focus lock, then upgrading won't help if the subject isn't contrasty enough to lock on to- again I'd suggest renting the appropriate body before going and spending money.

    New lenses will work with newer bodies- so if upgrading the glass gets you shots you're not getting now, and an upgraded body won't then go with the glass. A quick rental should give you the right answer.
  15. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    if you're using a flash most of the time, have you been using the AF assist lamp? 'cause if you weren't, that could be the solution...

    and on noise...i've no idea how the D70s is, but looking at 100% crops of gray cards won't tell you much. get "real" photos and look at those, and push the exposure and see how it responds. also, sometimes the noise will look similar at the pixel level, but won't when you print or view the image at something less than 100%.
  16. Ryan1524 thread starter macrumors 68000


    Apr 9, 2003
    Canada GTA
    My SB-600 fires a red focus assist grid, but it still hunts sometimes. I don't use the white AF Assist on the body, cause it's way too distracting.

    Maybe I'll go look around flickr for night photos taken with D300 and see how they compare noise-wise. I'm going to rent a D300 for a weekend once my exams are over.

    Eventually I'll be buying a lens, I have one more thing I'd like your opinions on. Should I upgrade to 17-55mm f2.8? I feel like my 35mm is very capable in this range, I like what I'm getting with it, it's small and light and very sharp. If I were to get the 17-55, I feel like it's more driven by the "look at my big lens" factor. On the other hand, on the longer end, all I have is the 85mm. It's a brilliant lens, but I want more. Having said that, I'm torn between getting a Tokina 50-135 or Sigma 50-150 - both f2.8, but Sigma has AF-S. Or maybe I should just get a used AF-D 80-200mm?? The 70-200mm VR would be awesome, but too $$$. :p

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