Upgrade path for better low light performance

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by JDDavis, Jun 17, 2014.

  1. JDDavis macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    So, I know these gear questions have been asked a million times but I like to hear what everyone thinks especially folks who have direct experience with the same scenarios. I'm looking to upgrade my gear to be able to take better pictures of my daughter's gymnastics meets. Let me put out a few facts...

    The goal: Better IQ. As in, more ability to crop, better DOF and less noise in the photo. (So I know I need better ISO and better glass).

    The problem: Gymnastics events are notoriously poorly lit, flashes are not allowed, you're often far away from your subject, and the action can be very fast. We recently attended a national event at the ESPN complex in Disney and I figured it would be pretty well lit but it wasn't. I still had to push the ISO up to 3200 just to get a decent shutter speed and that was still for underexposed grainy pictures on my gear.

    My current gear: Nikon D90, Nikkon 18-300, Nikkon 35mm, and Nikkon 50mm. The D90 has been (and still is) a great DX camera. I'm very happy with the 18-300 as a do everything lens but paired with the D90 the low light performance isn't the best. The 35 and 50 are much better but I generally have to crop so much that it defeats the better low light performance. From my experience the D90 doesn't do to well past ISO 1200.

    Upgrade path:

    (the obvious one)
    Nikon D800 $3k or
    Nikon D610 $1.9k
    Nikon 70-200 $2.4k (I've found 180mm to 300mm works fine for most gyms)

    Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 $1.3k (Nearly a grand off the 70-200. Is the IQ that much better on the 70-200 on the long end?)
    Nikon 105mm f/2 $1k (Would the increase in IQ be enough to allow for heavy cropping with this lens?)
    Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 $1.3k (is it comparable to the Nikkon? Are the compromises worth the savings? The older version of this lens sells for $700)
    Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 $1.2k (Is it comparable to the Nikon? Worth the savings?)
    What about adding a TC? Would that significantly degrade the low light performance?

    I'd love to hear any comments or similar experiences. I'm sticking with Nikon bodies so while there are great alternatives there's no need to mention any. The Nikon 200 and up primes are out of my price range. Are there any other alternatives to getting the low light performance I'm looking for? I'm happy to go FF and will obviously use the camera and lens for many other purposes. It looks like gymnastics is going to be a big deal for us so I anticipate shooting a lot during my daughters meets. I've shot for 2yrs with my current kit and there's no way around the fact that it's not up to the low light/no flash task. I'll consider used or refurbished and I may try to time my upgrade for when a replacement to the 800 or 610 comes out to snap up the "old" model if the prices come down.

    Thanks for the inputs.
  2. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    Apologies if this is too basic for you. I don't know your proficiency with photography. Hopefully there is something in here that is useful for you.

    Read up on 'fast lenses'. Basically, what is the smallest f/stop number - at the focal length you are using - that a lense is capable of. The 'faster' the lense the less light you need. The smaller the f/stop# the bigger the aperture and the 'faster' the lense. So, smaller numbers are better.

    The traditional full f/stop numbers run ... 8, 5.6, 4, 2.8, 2, 1.4, 1.0 (very very few lenses make it downy to f/1.0). Each of the numbers above is one full stop apart... that is.... the difference in the amount of light transmitted is either x2 or 1/2... depending on whether you are 'stopping' up or down.

    The numbers you see on the dial that fall between the numbers above are fractions of a stop...and not nearly as useful as one full stop.

    When you work with faster lenses you can dial the ISO down. Open the lense up one stop and you can dial back the ISO one stop. If you are shooting at 3200ISO and open the lense up one stop then can dial back the ISO to 1600. The traditional range of ISOs that are one stop apart are 3200, 1600, 800, 400, 200, etc....

    All of this is assuming that the shutter speed is not being changed. A good assumption because you are taking photos of a subject in motion, and therefore shutter speeds are a critical component of the composition.

    One last 'tip'... gymnasts in motion are not in fact 'in motion' all the time. Every time they change direction they slow down and usually come to complete stop... this is called 'peak action' (at least it used to be back in the days of glass plate negatives) :) For example, if your daughter is doing a floor routine that involves a leap ... just at the moment when her motion stops being an upward one and changes to a downward one - her motion stops for fraction of second. Which is all you need. It takes practice to catch this point reliably, but as a gymnasts parent you already probably know the routine and can anticipate these points.

    Or... all the parents can pool their money and pay a professional to sit in the front row and then share all the photos. It will be cheaper in the long run. ;) If not as much fun.
  3. logista macrumors member


    Mar 25, 2010
    Ann Arbor, MI
    I can't address all of your questions, but here's what I've learned:

    D90 (as you know) is terrible for noise. I have one. I moved to a D600 and I'm easily able to get to ISO 6400 and still can use the photo.

    The issue I have with the D600 (which carries over to the 610) is the very small area for AF focus points through the viewfinder. Basically Nikon put a Crop Sensor front end on a Full Frame back, so the coverage is surprisingly limited.

    I have used the 135 f/2 DC lens (not the 105) and it is fabulously sharp and I want to own one when I get some cash... but I'm not sure it's got long enough reach if you're far away from your subject. It is also very heavy.

    If you have a little time and can spare some budget, try renting a couple of lenses (and bodies). I've found this to be really useful -- because I realized that I didn't need to have the D800 after I rented it, so that $1K went for other things. (LensRentals.com and BorrowLenses.com are two rental places that I know of, there are more. I've used LensRentals, and always had good service from them.)

    I hope this helps a little.
  4. JDDavis thread starter macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    Thanks snberk103 but I should've given more info on my experience. I'd say I'm a decently well versed hobbyist so I'm pretty familiar with everything you've explained. That's how I've been able to get by with the limited capabilities of my current setup. I can tell you I'm squeezing every ounce of IQ I can out of my D90 and 18-300 and am up against an equipment wall and not a skill/knowledge wall. That's why I've finally decided to upgrade (and we've reached a point where it seems gymnastics is a long term effort for my daughter).

    Thanks for taking the time to explain though, that's what's good about this forum.
  5. JDDavis thread starter macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    Thanks for the info and thanks for reminding me of the 135 f/2. I know the 70-200 will meet all my needs (and I know I can't afford anything longer in a pro lens). What I am wondering about with the 105 and 135 is the ability to crop down. I think it's there because I've had decent success using the 50mm on my D90 and cropping down. If I'm too far away then that doesn't work. It depends on the gym setup.

    I feel the D800 is not worth the extra 1K for me but do you feel the small focus area of the D610 is limiting you in anyway? I shot manual mostly and mostly center focus. Especially if I know I will crop. My complaints with my current kit revolve more around soft focus out on the edges and that's more of a lens issue. The D90 will miss every now and then on what I was attempting to focus on but that's more on me than the camera.

    I've used LensRentals.com before too and it's worked well. I'm at the point where I should make a long term investment and I know what I can do with better glass and a more advanced body (in low light scenarios). I plan on keeping the D90. I think it's a great all around camera and has always met my needs up until now.

  6. swordio777 macrumors 6502

    Apr 3, 2013
    Scotland, UK
    By "Better DOF" do you mean you want more depth of field? Or shallower DOF?

    If you need a greater DOF, then unfortunately it's a losing battle. The action is fast so you'll need a fast shutter speed to capture it. The only realistic way you'll get more DOF is to stop down. Doing both of these will mean you need to crank your ISO.

    If you mean shallower DOF then faster glass is definitely the first step.

    Going full frame will also give the appearance of a shallower DOF, and could potentially provide better high ISO performance. However, because the frame is considerably larger, you'll need to crop far more than you would on a DX body.

    It sounds like the 18-300 is the weakest link in your chain. With an aperture of f/3.5 - f/6.3 it's nowhere near fast enough for the task in hand. Let's say your current lens is f/5.6 when zoomed to 200mm, and you're having to use ISO3200 to get the shot. The 70-200 / 80-200 would let you get the shot at ISO800. Of course, that only helps if shallower DOF isn't a problem.

    1) I honestly doubt you could tell the difference in quality between the 80-200 and 70-200. You're paying for newer technology, glass coatings & VR. If you're shooting at shutterspeeds where VR doesn't matter then save the money.
    2) While the 105 f/2 is a fantastic lens, it does not sound like the lens you need. You'd still need to crop dramatically. If you went full-frame as well then this wouldn't be anywhere near long enough for sports.
    3&4) Only you can answer that. It depends how much of an issue budget is. If you don't need VR then personally I'd go for the Nikon 80-200 over either the Tamron or Sigma.
    If you DO need VR then the 80-200 isn't really an option for you. Instead, I'd look for a used 70-200 VR1 before splashing on a new Sigma or Tamron.

    Hope that helps. It's a real shame you're not allowed to set up an off camera flash somewhere - that would solve your problem for under 100 bucks and would give better results with your current kit than any of the options above. Is it possible to sweet talk your way into using a low-powered flash completely out of the way where it won't distract people?

  7. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    You're missing the main thing you can do to figure out what will work. Measure the light where you'll actually shoot. Based upon that, you can calculate what settings you'll need. Then take the measured ISO specs for the bodies you're looking at, and the lenses, and go from there.

    Don't forget the option of renting a Zeiss 100/2, 135/2 or Nikkor 135/2 or 200/2-- with the crop-ability of the higher-density sensors they'll give you the reach you want and are all decent longer options at f/2. Depending on usage, figure you can go down to at least 40% of the frame and still have useful results at 8x10. The D800 vs D610 is going to be low light performance (610) vs amount of crop (800,) which will be affected by the lens- renting or borrowing will probably be the best way to find out, even if it's a couple-hundred to do it, you're making an investment in gear that will last years and years, so it'll win out in the end.

  8. JDDavis thread starter macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    Thanks compuwar. Lots of good info. I'll try to address a few things without quoting your whole post.

    I guess by better DOF I'm really looking for better subject isolation so a shallower DOF and focus accuracy. In a meet there is alot going on at once and there is almost always something annoying in the background of your shot. So I think shallower DOF at longer focal lengths would help. Thus the f/2.8 at 200mm would be better.

    ISO performance is a must. No flash of any kind (or light source) is allowed as a safety precaution. They will even ask you to turn of the AF assist light if they see it come on. Gyms are horrible places to shoot for light and though I can crank the D90's ISO up to get a useable shutterspeed and employ all the tricks in the book, including using NIK Dfine (great noise reducer) in post the images still aren't what I'm personally happy with. They are useable, but not the quality I want.

    I haven't considered needing to crop more (in general) on the FX sensor. Is the following logic correct? All things being equal a cropped RAW D610/70-200 f/2.8 image is still going to be of better technical quality than the same RAW image taken with a D7100/70-200 f/2.8 combo. The FX sensor is still going to provide more data even when cropped down to "DX size" then the DX sensor. I didn't consider the D7100 because I am willing to pay for the better ISO performance and the larger sensor.

    Thanks for the input on VR. I'm not sold that it's a must have. Timing the action and a monopod make more of a difference. I will surely do more digging on the 80-200. I'll also be looking at used and older models as well.

    The no flash rule is etched in stone. You can get your entire team disqualified for a parent snapping off a flash. It's for good reason as it is dangerous for the girls to be distracted. Even pros who are hired to shoot are not allowed. BTW, most that I have talked to are using Nikon or Cannon FF bodies and f/2.8 or better glass.

    I do have the Nikkor 135/2 on my list. The majority of my "gym shots" are between around 185 and 300mm so I wonder if it will require extreme cropping as well? The 200 f/2 is simply out of my budget. Like you explained the wider aperture my making cropping ok. The ISO performance between the 610 and the 800 doesn't seem to warrant the extra $1k. The "crop-ability" of the extra 12mp might? I have tried them out and seen the results and I know the D610 / 70-200 f/2.8 combo will do the trick. I'm just looking for more info on other alternatives and any experience from the board in the same scenarios. I'm not looking to be convinced to buy or not buy anything just interested in the kind of feedback that you guys are giving me.

    Thanks again
  9. Apple fanboy macrumors Penryn

    Apple fanboy

    Feb 21, 2012
    Behind the Lens, UK
    I don't shoot a lot of low light stuff, but will add my 2c for what it's worth.
    I just picked up the 70-200mm 2.8 VR and its an awesome lens. If you need the length (I don't know how far away you are at these events) it will take a 2x TC (but maybe not in low light). On my D7100 its a fantastic combo.

    To push the usable ISO use DXO optics pro over the Nik software. I have both and DXO is much better at noise reduction.

    If you are going to these events regular and are a competent photographer, could you sell images to the other parents (as I'm sure plenty are shooting with a smart phone!)? That could fund you better equipment.
  10. Meister Suspended


    Oct 10, 2013
    So I will give my opinion, too.

    For better low light ff bodies like the ones mentioned are obviously better, but:
    You will lose the reach you need for sports.

    Longer ff lenses are pricier.

    And: You cannot compensate that with cropping!

    The D800 might have a 36mpx sensor, but how many megpix can a lens even resolve?
    Most flagship dslrs stop at just above 16megpix, like the D4s and the 1dx.
    Thats about the resolution the best lenses will get you.
    So you can crop, but the picture quality might go down with it.
    The D800 isnt famous for its burst mode. It was built with studio conditions in mind.

    The D610 is obviously a better and cheaper choice in this regard.
    It has a faster burst mode and marginally better low light performance than the D800.
    But, it also has the super small AF area.
    You might want to look at a used d600 that can be had for under 1000,- now!
    Nikon will even replace your shutter if you get the infamous oil issue.

    If my main goal would be shooting sports, I would choose a D7100.
    More reach!! Fast burst mode, large and fast AF. And the low light performance should be enough.

    Now I am not familiar with the D90, but with my D610 and reasonably fast glas I can almost shoot in the dark.
    So I am assuming the d7100 should be enough, but :apple:fanboy should know more about this.
  11. swordio777, Jun 17, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014

    swordio777 macrumors 6502

    Apr 3, 2013
    Scotland, UK
    Not necessarily. A lot of things affect the noise of a photo. The main things are:
    1) the size of the sensor's individual photo sites (lower Megapixel counts have bigger photo sites, so each one can collect light more efficiently),

    2) the size of the noise in relation to the size of the final image (higher mp count doesn't make less noise, but it does make it finer), and

    3) the camera's firmware (newer is generally better).

    No - the opposite is true. The D800 is 36MP, when used in DX crop mode it is 16MP. It's photo sites are almost exactly the same size as those on the D7000, it just has more of them. For that reason, when you crop the D800 file to the same size as a D7000 file, the quality will be almost identical.

    In the example you gave the D610 is 24mp spread out over the full frame - by cropping you will be throwing many of these pixels away. Conversely, the D7100 has the same number of pixels but is "pre-cropped", so the noise grain will appear much finer and you will have much more opportunity to crop even further.

    Based on your needs, I think a D7100 and a 70-200 (or 80-200) would give you the results you are looking for.

  12. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
  13. JDDavis thread starter macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    Thanks for all the great info!

    Apple fanboy
    I think I do a pretty fair job at getting interesting pics at meets (but the IQ is low :rolleyes: ) but gymnastics is an unbelievably expensive sport to have kids in. I'd not feel right about trying to sell pics to team parents. Besides I don't want the pressure (i'm there for my kid) and to be frank, I can afford the big glass. :cool:

    Thanks for the comparison of the 800 to the 610. I'm still looking at the D7100 but in DXOMark comparisons the D610 scores more than twice as better than the D7100 for useable ISO in low light sports and just barely better than the D800. I've heard the argument both ways but I was under the impression that the "reach" attested to DX cameras is not really getting you closer to the subject but is the effective focal length of the comparative cropped FX image. I have no idea if I said that right! If that's true than it's not that a DX at 200mm is closer than an FF at 200mm it's just that the FF has more image at the edges, if you will. Perhaps someone can confirm that a DX with the same focal length lens gets you optically closer?

    Thanks for clarifying. I've seen the results of FF and 2.8 lenses in gymnastics compared to my D90 and there is no comparison. I have not compared the D7100 with a f/2.8 lens. The "testing" out there seems to say that the D7100 has about half the useable ISO that the D610 has. Let me rephrase the question for further discussion. If between the 610 and the 7100 money is not a concern, is there any reason to expect, given my gymnastics needs, that the D7100 would perform better than the D610 because it is a crop sensor? (Low light performance being the #1 concern).

  14. JDDavis thread starter macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
  15. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    In the Nikon system, all telephotos with the large aperture characteristic the OP wants are full-frame lenses. So, there are no DX lens options that are cheaper, because there are no DX telephotos with an aperture of f/2.8 or larger. In terms of manufacturer lenses, I don't believe Nikon currently produce any DX lens that's not at f/4.5-f/5.6 by 200mm. So the lens price is going to be the same either way.

    Absolutely, you CAN compensate by cropping. Most especially with high-megapixel bodies like the D800. In fact, some bodies have at or near the IQ of a DX sized crop that a DX-sized sensor body has, effectively allowing larger images when conditions permit and equivalent images when they don't and even tighter crops when necessary.

    In fact, I've sold fine art prints up to 13x19" from about a 30%-40% crop of a 12.4MP D2x. While a lot depends on the subject, I'd estimate that my FX body's images are good down to about a 20-25%% crop up to about an 8x10" print. My best selling print is about a 30% crop of a DX frame printed at 8x10, and nobody's ever said "Oh, look- a crop!"

    My D3x delivers a 10.5MP DX crop in DX mode. At 8x10, I really can't see the difference between that and the D2x's 12.4MP native mode. It certainly produces an image with enough quality to do a full-bleed double page magazine spread. Photo editors are likely more discerning than parents ;)

    Resolution isn't everything, more data to work with is more data to work with, especially for things like noise reduction. Plus, it gives room for cropping and downsampling.

    I crop all the time, and I still get more than acceptable image quality. If my crops are around DX size, then my images will stand up to very close and exacting scrutiny. The few times I've shot a DX lens on my FX body and cropped manually, I've got a better image than on a DX body because I've been able to crop to the image circle of the lens, which is larger than the DX sensor size.

    Unless you downsample the D800 image to the size of the D600 image, then the D800 is generally going to win in terms of overall image quality and in terms of noise. In that way, I'd say that it's very not obviously better, though it is cheaper.

    This is very important, because by downsampling to the equivalent resolution, you're able to take advantage of all the additional sensels for noise and overall image quality. While downsampling does degrade sharpness compared to an straight image, there's enough resolution in today's high-megapixel cameras to offset the penalty more than handily.

    Here is an example of the advantages of shooting with a D800 downsampled to the resolution of a D600 compared to a native D600 shot with the same lens:


    Note that the 1:1 area is a miniscule portion of the entire image. printed at even 8x10, the noise and sharpness are going to be less visible in the print than is evidenced.

    Personally, I'd pay the extra for the D800 because downsampling is going to affect the noise characteristics more than the additional sensel size according to my eyes.

    Here's a direct noise comparison between the D800 and D600:


    Furthermore, buried in this review is a D800 image downsampled to 12MP compared to the D3s:


    To my eye, at ISO 3200, the downsampled D800 image looks better.

    I'd seriously advise the OP to rent a D800 and shoot a variety of images, then downsample to 12 and 24MP at various ISOs and crop and print the images. My guess is that you'll be very pleased with the results.



    There is an AF-S version of the 80-200 that goes for about $1000, I'd expect it to perform vastly better than the older EDIF AF-D variants, but I've never had the chance to try one. It's also worth noting that battery voltage affects the speed of AF-D autofocus. I'd have to check, but I suspect the D1 and D2 series are the only DX bodies with higher-voltage batteries- but it's worth looking at if you're buying older lenses.

  16. JDDavis thread starter macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    Thanks Paul. A lot of great info as always. I've seen what the the 610 and 800 can do with a 70-200 f/2.8 and they do fit the bill. I have not experimented with down sampling though. So as I understand, you are saying that because of the extra MPs of the D800 downsampling at higher ISOs to 24mp will produce a better image (noise wise) than native resolution and the same ISO on the 610?

    I do tend to crop a lot with gymnastics photos so having the ability to do so without sacrificing too much is a big deal. Large prints are not a concern, though as you stated, more data is always better than less data. As of know most of the printing is just for photo books for us and family.

    BTW, I shoot other subjects, mainly landscape, wildlife, and mountaineering/climbing photos and of course any upgrade will be nice there too, though I've been happy with the D90 for all of these. I can generally work around the limitations, except for maybe wildlife. Gymnastics is a more recent addition and possibly the most challenging but it seems I'll be doing it for a while as my daughter has really taken to it.
  17. mofunk macrumors 68020


    Aug 26, 2009
    Narrow your choices down to two and see which one fits your needs best.

    If you are on a budget the 105mm with D90 might work. But since you shoot wildlife, maybe you should try finding a 70-200mm or 80-200mm lens. used $800-up.

    D7100 is very close to the D600/D610. Difference is that one is full frame. The cost with a lens will bump the price up.

    I rent a lot from lensrental.com too. This is a good way to find what fits. If you have been doing that, then check and make sure your shutter speed is right for what you shoot. Try using the AF lock too.
  18. Attonine macrumors 6502a

    Feb 15, 2006
    Kent. UK
    Why not consider a lightly used D700? Fantastic high ISO performance, a truly great DSLR. Low shutter count, lightly used models can be had for great prices, and there are a lot around.

    I'd certainly go for this model of camera if I were looking to buy atm (or better still a D3/D3s, if I was prepared to throw the money at another body).

    You will certainly notice there is simply no comparison in high ISO performance when you compare the D700/610/800 with the D90. These 3 cameras simply leave the D90 in the dust.

    Remember, If you jump for the D800, although a great camera, do consider that the jump to 36MP images is going to hit whatever computer you use for post pretty hard. This can lead to the necessity to upgrade sooner than you had anticipated. Give the complete workflow a little bit of thought before you make the leap.
  19. Meister, Jun 18, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2014

    Meister Suspended


    Oct 10, 2013
    All very interesting info you posted.
    I want to add:
    I wrote long ff lenses are expensive, because the OP will need longer lenses to compensate for the missing reach.

    I wrote that the D610 is the obvious choice mainly because it is siginificantly cheaper.
    If a bit of cropping you can or cant do is worth 1000$ to you then go for it.
    For most amateurs this is not the case.

    Cameralabs seems to show that at higher isos the D610 has significantly less noise.
    This falls in line with dxomarks findings. In any case the difference is marginal.

    My bottom line is that you can crop, but I always notice the IQ dropping when I make the image larger after it.
    So if i were the OP Id get the d7100 for the extra reach and AF.
  20. swordio777 macrumors 6502

    Apr 3, 2013
    Scotland, UK
    I have not looked at much of the testing you mentioned. To be completely honest, I find it hard to believe that the D7100’s usable ISO is only half that of the D610. Both cameras will deliver usable images at ISO6400 and probably even higher.

    It sounds like you are stuck in a static position at these events, so need to zoom and occasionally crop to get a good shot. The D7100 and D610 are both 24 megapixel cameras. Imagine you’re stuck in your seat and you took exactly the same shot using a D610 at 200mm and a D7100 at 200mm. The resulting image from each camera would be the same size (24MP), however the subject would appear nearly twice as big in the D7100 image. For this reason, you would need to crop far less, and any resulting noise would appear much finer.

    The D610 is a fantastic camera, however any full frame camera will give the sensation of pushing you further away from the action. Any low light performance gained from the larger photosites will be lost when you crop your images.

    Also, don’t concern yourself with down-sampling. It won’t affect the noise in the way you expect. The only reason the image in Compuwar’s link had been downsized was so that they could compare a D800 file and a D3 file fairly.
    You should not judge noise by viewing an image at 100% on screen – it’s not a realistic representation of that image.

    Hope that all makes sense.
  21. Meister Suspended


    Oct 10, 2013

    I read your first post again and noticed that you also want to shoot other things besides gymnastics.
    If you can afford the big glas and want the cutting edge low light performance, I think FF is for you.

    I would then consider:
    D4s:AF! + no worries about low light ever ... :) , but heavy and pricy.

    used D4: AF! + no worries about low light, but also heavy and not cheap.

    Df: same low light performance as D4, light and slick, but no video.

    D610: I have this camera and love it. Best all around FF body.

    D800: same as D610, but monster megpix. Slow burst though.

    D7100: extra reach! + your wallet will thank you, but worst low light of the bunch.

    I get the feeling that you would like either the Df or D610 the most if you decide for FF.
  22. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    The D610 has the exact same sensor as the D600-- so the Camera Labs images are directly applicable-- there doesn't seem to be a stop's difference to my eyes in the direct noise comparisons in raw or JPEG. At 3200 and 6400, I see a bit more than a stop's difference in the downsampled images- but it is definitely worth testing. Math-wise, it's like using multiple images on your D90 to average out the noise, though not necessarily to the same extent.

  23. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    Again though, my experiences are that a high-res body in DX mode is good enough that you really don't need to "compensate" as it's not really "missing reach" it's a crop, and the resolution difference isn't startling enough at most print sizes to be important. Restated, that's to say that a DX crop from a D800 is going to be "good enough" for most people shooting most subjects.

    Side by side, you'll prefer more data (though your observation about lenses and resolution still apply.) However, the D800 in DX mode is just like shooting the full resolution of a D7000 when in DX crop mode- which is still quite a good camera, even though it's not a D7100.

    As an aside, when I first got my D3x, I used to still carry my D2x around because I was worried about "reach" when shooting birds. Once I'd done some actual testing, I ditched the extra weight because the results from DX crop mode were equivalent to my eyes, and often I could crop larger than DX mode, but less than full frame and have a net gain.

    If you were always shooting in those conditions, then that might apply-- but you get the benefit of the full-frame, full-resolution images for landscapes and other subjects where the FX sensor is more at home. So your extra money is going to other images- some folks will pay less than $200/year for those images, some won't.

    Not when the images are downsampled on the D800, and not by the same difference according to my eyes. Your millage may vary.

    Please take a look here:


    Bottom line, at the ISOs that Jeff is likely to be shooting gymnastics at (3200-6400,) the D800E is cleaner at full resolution by about a stop, but downsamplng both camera's images to 15.4MP give the D7100 the edge, so the real question is will the OP need to crop the crop? If so, then the D7100 is a better answer- but if the gymnastics use case isn't the full use case, then the question can also be "is a 15MP image good enough for that use case?" It's also unfortunate that the images here are a D800E and not a D800- so some level of difference makes renting a D800 worth-while to test under the conditions he'll be shooting under.

    The interesting questions would be "are the D610 images acceptable downsampled to 15MP?" and "Are the DX crop images at 10MP sufficient?"

  24. JDDavis thread starter macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    Again, thanks for all the great discussion. This continues to be very useful for me and has generated other possible alternatives for me to research. I will head ChrisA's advice for sure and upgrade in steps starting with the glass. This makes sense of course and will allow me to see the improvement that fast glass on my D90 makes and use that as a reference for what additional horsepower I might need in low light performance.

    On the subject of FX vs DX or for me I could call it "best ISO performance" vs "best reach"...Doing more reading on the subject I understand now the "reach" given by a 1.5 crop factor sensor vs the FF Nikon body. Because of the effect of the crop sensor basically my 50mm on new D610 would be equivalant to my 35mm on my old D90. The material in the framed image would roughly be the same for both setups. So, put the 35mm on both cameras. My deduction would be that if I cropped (in post) the FX image down to the same size as the DX image the cropped image would still be of better quality. Most likely because the D610 is light years ahead of the D90. Now would that be true if it was a D610 vs a D7100?

    I think there are valid points to be made for either (as many of you have) with the biggest pro for the D7100 being that image quality is excellent and it holds the "reach" advantage given the same focal length lens (max 200mm in this case). My decision may still fall to ISO performance.

    Using DXOMarks low light ISO score as a reference I can understand the comparison. The low light ISO score equals the highest ISO setting that will still achieve an SNR (signal to noise ratio) of 30db, which they consider "excellent image quality"

    The new large body FFs and the Df are not a consideration for me but for reference they score in 3000 - 3200 ISO range (tops)

    The D610 scores a 2925 ISO
    The D800 scores a 2853 ISO
    The D700 scores a 2303 ISO (good input Attonine!)
    The D7100 scores a 1256 ISO (Surprisingly the D3300 is a 1385)
    My D90 scores a 977 ISO (I can vouch for that as I try not to go past 400 and 1200 produces pretty noisy backgrounds)

    Again this is thier measure of the highest ISO that will produce "excellent image quality" (an SNR of 30db). It doesn't mean you can't push the camera's ISO further and still have a useable image. I have many "useable" images shot at 3200 on my D90.

    Everything I've been learning leads me to believe that, given the same set of variables, I could push a D610 twice as far in low light as I could a D7100 and get comparable image quality. At this point that seems to be of more value than the 1.5x "reach" of a crop sensor. I believe, in my low light scenario, that I would lose more image quality by accepting the lower ISO performance than by cropping. Put another way, better ISO performance + cropping > lower ISO performance + no cropping (more reach). I've experienced this in real life in general with FX vs DX in my scenario but not directly comparing real results of the D7100 vs the D610.

    I think I am leaning more and more towards the D610. Fast glass is a must and will come first. I am not getting rid of the D90 so I still have that option if I need the extra "reach". A noisy image is better than no image in some cases. I will look more into the D700 but a quick check of prices shows that it would be about a $400-$500 savings over the D610. I'll have to determine if that savings is worth it.

    Thanks again for the discussion!
  25. swordio777 macrumors 6502

    Apr 3, 2013
    Scotland, UK
    In my opinion, the D700 is not the right camera for you.

    It's a fantastic camera (I use two of them) and its low-light performance is still pretty good by today's standards.

    However, it is only 12MP and you will need to crop your images considerably more than you are currently doing with your D90.

    Let's say you take a shot on your D90 and crop it down to 10MP. If you'd shot it on a D700 instead, you'd need to crop the final image down to about 4MP to get the same framing.

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