Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three part series by photographer Erwin Van Asperen. It is being published here with permission.
At least 90% of the photography content on my site was shot with my Nikon D90. I am writing about it as it still were in my possession, though as a matter of fact, I sold it just about a week ago along with its lenses.
Let me tell you about our little love story: I bought it about 5 years ago, with a little discount at a local store. Before I bought the D90 I owned a Canon Powershot A630. Great little camera, had quite a lot of nice features an adjustment options, A, P, S-modes, great image quality (as long as you kept the ISO low) and a fantastic macro mode. It really made my enthusiasm for photography grow, not to mention it showed me that my initial arrogance, the thought I would be creative enough to just go and shoot the best pictures in the world, was (of course), completely misguided. Fool.
After using this camera for about three years, I purchased the D90. So why a D90? At the time I liked the idea of an interchangeable lens system. My thought was that I could adjust it exactly the way I wanted it. My dad already owned quite a few Nikon mount lenses for his D80, so we could share and exchange lenses along the way. It just felt like I was ready for a bigger camera. Not a full frame or anything, but a fully adjustable APS-C size sensor equipped D-S-L-R.
At first I couldn’t quite figure the camera out–which I, perhaps strangely enough, quite liked. I really needed an understanding of how a camera worked. I mean in “the analogue way.” Light hitting a light sensitive surface of some kind (whether that is analogue “film” or a digital sensor, it actually doesn’t really matter).
I took more time to understand A-, S- and P- modes of a camera, color temperature (white balance), ISO, exposure compensation, what the actual meaning was of autofocus modes such as AF-S, AF-C, AF-A, MF etc, etc, etc.
I really liked the idea that I could adjust pretty much anything on this camera to just the way I wanted it.
Then along came the lenses. At first I bought the 18-55ff, which might be a poorly made lens, its excellent optical qualities makes up for it completely. It is cheap, razor sharp, lightweight and has very good optical image stabilization build-in. Even its macro capabilities were quite good. It only had two cons: bad build quality, not that fast in terms of the maximum aperture. It’s not that wide at the wide end, but I was already using my dad’s Tokina 12-24mm (which is a great lens too btw), so at the wide end I had no real further wishes.
During my holiday in Italy I slowly began to dislike the 18-55 lens. I didn’t really know why, but I didn’t use the zoom ring that much anymore and I wanted to focus manually more often. Upon coming home I fired up my pc and put the sd card in. I saw quite a lot of uninspired pictures taken at the wide end (27mm) and a lot of better (read: less uninspired) pictures taken at 35-50 mm range (full frame equivalent, crop eq: +/- 25-35mm). Slowly but surely I began to like the “normal” range of the lens more and more. It focuses more on the subject – and lets you focus more on the subject (!).
Therefore I began to understand that my creativity could be helped a little with a more “subject-focussed” normal lens with greater depth of field and a better low light capability, so I could use it under pretty much any circumstance.
Long story short: I was in for a prime lens.
After scrolling through numerous reviews, price lists, lens types and considerations like I found myself `worth it`, I purchased the Nikkor 35mm 1.8g (52mm full frame equivalent) AND a 55-300 mm which I really felt I needed whenever I was hiking through mountains, taking pictures of other mountains (loved much about that lens btw, with the exception for its pooooooor autofocus, will write about that part later).
I never stepped back – never used my 18-55 anymore after I got the 35mm. You know why?
It weighs nothing, has a huge max aperture of 1.8, and made me think creatively. Let me emphasize that, it FORCED me to think more creatively.
To be exact: I started to think about framing, light conditions, subject placement. The things that truly matter in photography! Another thing: I started taking pictures as if I were a street photographer: worry less about image quality, worry more about the things you shoot. Heck, I approached it as if it were an analogue camera: taking less pictures, only when it’s truly worth-the-…while!
That is the exact time I started seeing the downsides of my system.
It was big and bulky. I loved the grip it and I had, though was annoyed by the fact I couldn’t take it anywhere because of its size and weight.
More so during those days I slowly but surely realized I loved street, urban and city photography and began to notice people were just frightened by me. A big black block of a camera, with the all to well known white “Nikon” letters on the front.
I even did go as far as to put black tape on the camera, covering everything that wasn’t black, so it (and I) wouldn’t be so much “noticeable”. It sorta worked – people didn’t care as much for it as they used to, though I was still hauling around with a big package that didn’t focus as fast as I wanted to, nor did it have (at least, for me) a good manual focussing option – unless I bought lenses that were bigger, less discreet and way more expensive.
Another thing I didn’t really like about the Nikon over the years is the color rendition. It is absolutely fantastic – it is flawless in terms of neutrality – renders the colors exactly as they are.
Yet that it is exactly the thing I didn’t like. – it renders colors as they are – not as they appear. The difference might seem non-existent when you read that sentence back, though what I mean is that it doesn’t capture the “mood” or the “feeling” of a particular scene or event. That being said, whenever I fiddled with the raw-files and adjusted the white balance (or color temperature) it could feel right (the other option was me selecting a certain white balance before I’d take the picture), but it mostly did not.
Different kinds of photography require different tastes for the color rendering, though me personally would always chose unnatural colors that would “feel right” as oppose to natural and neutral colors.
To sum it up:
The Nikon D90 is truly one of the greatest cameras around in the APS-C dslr category.
It has everything you could ask for and more….
Its image quality is great….
Its ergonomics are great….
Its features are great….
Still, we did go separate ways.
She was probably just more then I could handle:
Too big, black, bulky, too slow (with quite a lot lenses autofocus was slow), too indiscreet, too straight-forward.
Still, I sold it to someone who was very happy with it, as you should be whenever buying such a camera.
I made some great pictures with it and the moment I got the hang of it (understood the camera’s knobs and features), it was pretty much my buddy.
I learned a lot from shooting with it, and the pictures always came out nice.
Which brings me to the end of this writing:
In the end, this DSLR just wasn’t my cup of tea, because of the following reasons:
I like capturing spontaneous moments and feelings – not directing them, which the D90 is an excellent tool for.
I like to stumble upon art, not creating it from scratch (this counts only for photography that is (!)).
I like the thought of me not knowing what to search for, right until the very moment I actually find IT…
The Nikon D90 was not the tool I for that. It captures your own imagination, rather then somebody else’s.
So I say you farewell!
Bye bye my dearest Nikon!
Have a great second life!