Upgrading My Camera Kit

Once we sold our house, and had a bit of money to spare, I wanted to upgrade my camera kit.  I had a Nikon D40, with the kit 18-55 lens, along with a 55-200 VR lens.  Together, they could handle most things, but there were a few problems:

  • I often missed shots because I had the wrong lens on the camera.  Things that move often do so, or fly away, before you’ve had time to change lenses.  Also, if I had the wrong lens on the camera for a shot, I’d often just not take the shot rather than stop in the street swapping lenses around.
  • Although I was generally impressed with the D40 for the low price, it’s not especially speedy, especially with RAW files.
  • 6 megapixels.  Plenty for most things I want to do, but doesn’t leave a lot of spare for cropping.
  • Lighting is very limited with the built-in flash.  I could add an off-camera flash to the D40, but only by adding a controller, or an SB-800 to act as a controller alongside another flash.  Both options are expensive.

I also had a Canon G9, and had taken to carrying and using it more often than the D40, but it was far too slow to use for everything.

My solution was this kit:

  • Nikon D90
  • Nikon 18-200 VR lens
  • Nikon SB-600 flash

So far, it’s done everything I’d hoped and more.  I don’t carry the G9 now, but Sam uses it.  The old Ixus she was using has found a new home.

The Camera

The camera itself is much more of a step-up from the D40 than I’d expected.  It’s quite a bit faster in taking pictures, but seems to make a really big difference in focusing speed, too.  It’s the first camera I’ve used where I get the best results by just letting it look after the focusing all on its own, even letting it choose the focus points to use.  It just gets shots the D40 couldn’t get.

The image quality is great, as you’d expect.  The performance at higher ISO is much better.  RAW files that Aperture wouldn’t open were a problem, but Apple fixed that one in an update.  Handling is very good, and it feels nicely solid.  The metering seems accurate, so I just leave it to get on with it.

The Lens

No more losing shots because I have the wrong lens on the camera – now I only have one lens.  There are obviously image quality trade-offs to get so much zoom range in a single lens, but nothing that’s been too noticeable to me so far.  Being able to go from moderately wide to moderately telephoto in a second is very liberating.  I love being able to grab the camera and take a photo without having to worry about whether I have to take it apart and change lenses first.

The Flash

I’ve never used anything but on-camera built-in flash before.  I’ve been reading Strobist for a while, though, and it starts to get to you.  The SB-600 seemed a better deal than the SB-800, especially as Jessops did it for £50 less when bought with the D90.  I’ve not done enough experimenting with it to give much opinion yet, but I’m impressed so far.

Once everything is set up in the first place, taking a shot with off-camera lighting is very easy:

  • Pull camera and flash from my bag.
  • Switch on the flash, and attach its little ‘foot’ if it needs to stand upright.
  • Point the flash where I want it.
  • Switch on the camera, and press the button to pop up the built-in flash (it uses this to talk to the SB-600).
  • Take pictures.

The camera and flash between them look after everything else.

The Kit

It’s a neat kit.  In total, about the same size as the D40 kit with two lenses, but can do much more.  It’s probably a bit heavier.  It all fits in a nice small Lowepro shoulder bag, so I carry it everywhere.  I’m tempted to add another flash – maybe an SB-800 next, so I can do two-flash setups – but I’m not in a great hurry for that.  Maybe in time for the trip to London that I seem to have been persuaded to go on.