Nikon D600 - Review and user experience - Part 4 - On Location - Some discussion of sensor and file output

Yesterday I took the D600 out with my 28-300mm VR lens fitted. I'm gradually increasing the weight with my Blackrapid Sport Camera Strap / Harness and its still a case of so far so good. This does work very well.

In keeping with the rest of this review, I can report that the camera worked fine yet again, very efficiently and quickly and as before I was concentrating on taking the pictures and not thinking about the camera. I tried a few shots at higher ISO's, up to ISO 800, and they were clean(ish). The jpgs being better than the raw, as is usual, less noisy but less sharp. So pretty much positive as before.

But what I wrote about in the very first post on this camera is still seriously bugging me. And that is this similar "look" that seems to be coming from so many cameras these days.

Are we now seeing all "mainstream" cameras moving towards some kind of uniformity in terms of digital file output? Is the only "individuality" coming from the smaller, lower volume manufacturers, such as Sigma, Samsung, Leica and Fuji? Is the CMOS Bayer sensor (usually made by Sony) going to be our only choice for the majority of cameras that we buy for the forseeable future? And if so is that a good thing and something that we want?

To a certain extent we seem to be voting with our wallets, since this type of sensor with its excellent high ISO performance, but slightly soft, AA filtered, output is the norm for most of the cameras that we buy. Canon, who still make their own sensors, have a slightly different idea of how files should look, but they too have that less than crisp, filtered but low noise output too. Apart from anything else, it seems easier to pull off. Just look at the problems with the Fuji X Pro 1 sensor. (On this there is a piece by Thom Hogan - which I include to show that its not just me who bangs on about this all the time!!)

So because these kind of sensors mostly work well, and we seem to want to buy them, does this mean that for the most part, its game over and thats what we get from now on? Unless of course we are prepared to pay Leica prices or put up with poor software support for cameras from Fuji and Sigma.

I think its pretty obvious where my preferences lie. The amount of column inches I've devoted to the Leica M9 and its sensor and the Fuji and Sigma units shows how I like my files to look. And it is true that I shoot virtually everything at ISO 100 and have no particular need or desire to use anything higher. It explains why I kept the D800E in preference to the D800, though after long term use with that camera, I'm not convinced that its a genuine non-AA filtered sensor, and to be honest I don't think the difference is that significant. Plus I seem to be the only person left on the planet who actually prefers the "old" Panasonic sensors in m4/3 cameras to the Sony unit in the Olympus OM-D and now apparently in the Panasonic GH3 as well.

There is no doubt that Leica M CCD's, Sigma Foveon and Fuji X Trans sensors are more "difficult" to use and its also obvious that CCD and Foveon sensors are probably never going to be capable of producing good results at high(er) ISO's. My seemingly "flippant" comments on the D600 are not hiding (I hope) just how good I think that camera is, and to be honest a lot of my comments about how the files look and my perception of encroaching uniformity is to a large extent splitting hairs. In terms of how we mostly see photographs there isn't a huge difference and it certainly won't impact on my income. In fact its probably the reverse, since Leica, Fuji and Sigma files are certainly more difficult to work with, and since the market where I sell my works likes clean, slightly soft files anyway, I sometimes have problems getting my preferred ultra-sharp, non - AA filtered files accepted unless I work at making them look like the CMOS Bayer "standard".

But despite all this I think that a certain individuality and the potential for something great is being lost in this move to adopt something that works for most photographic scenarios. The Sigma DP2M has shown me just what its possible to achieve from a digital camera, and its now difficult for me to accept anything else. I'm interested to see what the Leica M10 will produce. Its going to be a non-AA filtered CMOS Bayer sensor, so that may give some idea as to what this is capable of in terms of sharpness etc. 

I've no doubt I'll come back to this topic, but at least I do have the Sigma files to eulogise about, and hopefully enough people will buy these Sigma cameras so that this technology will survive for that small percentage of photographers who value something special and unique.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.
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