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High ISO performance – the progress slows down

Sample RAW files of the D850 are now readily available and Capture NX-D has been update to process those RAW files.

This allows to disable noise reduction and to have a clear look on the high ISO performance of the new 45 MP sensor.

The hype regarding the noise performance above ISO 3.200 should be gone rather quickly. Looking at the RWA files without any NR, it becomes quite clear that the D850 does not perform any better than a D800/D810. This is in itself is a progress, since we are having now almost 10 MP more on the same sensor area. However, this is an evolution and not a revolution. We should expect a certain kind of maturity in sensor technology, big jumps in performance are now a thing of the past.

For me the D800 is perfectly usable up to ISO 3.200 and with care up to ISO 6.400. My D4 gets used up to ISO 12.800. The same should apply to the D5. This difference of one stop (or a bit more) should hold up for the foreseeable future. Low resolution sensors will retain an ISO advantage for the time being.

Sometimes it is also argued that downsizing a high-res picture will lead to a better picture than that from a low resolution sensor. The direct comparison between D850 and D4 at ISO 12.800 show quite an advantage for the D4:

The D850 is an excellent camera and worth the upgrade for many owners of D800 and D810. However, high ISO performance should not be the criteria to spend the money.

Review of AF-S 17-35mm 2,8D ED added

A review of the AF-S 17-35mm 2,8D ED has been added to the AF wide angle page.

Nikon prices in USA 1967

Official Nikon price list for the US in 1967:

Fix focal lenses – Fisheye

8mm 8,0 with finder – 459,50 $

Fix focal lenses

21mm 4,0 – 199,50 $, finder 12 $

28mm 3,5 – 159,50 $

35mm 2,8 – 149,50 $

35mm 3,5 PC – 239,50 $

50mm 1,4 – 149,95 $

50mm 2,0 – 87,95 $

55mm 3,5 Micro with extension ring M – 179,50 $

85mm 1,8 – 189,50 $

105mm 2,5 – 175,00 $

135mm 3,5 – 169,50 $

200mm 4,0 – 210,00 $

Medical 200mm 5,6 with AC & battery outfit – 599,50 $

300mm 4,5 non-ED – 279,00 $

500mm 5,0 Reflex – 530,00 $

1000mm 6,3 Reflex – 1750 $

Tele heads

400mm 4,5 – not listed

600mm 5,6 – 650,00 $

800mm 8,0 – 750,00 $

1200mm 11,0 – 950,00 $

Focus unit CU-1 – 199,50 $

Zoom

43-86mm 3,5 – 179,50 $

50-300mm 4,5 non-ED – not listed

85-250 4,0-4,5 – 515,00 $

200-600mm 9,5-10,5 – 515,00 $

Cameras (Body only)

Nikkormat FT Chrome – 183,50 $

F Chrome – 220,00 $

F Black – 239,50 $

F Photomic Chrome – 255,00 $

F Photomic Black – 274,50 $

List of AF-S lenses with ring and micro motor SWM

Nikon utilizes Silent Wave Motors (SWM) since 1996 after a short attempt with regular electric motors in the AF-I lenses from 1992. The Af-S 200mm 3,8 was the first lens to make use of the SWM motors.

In the first decade of AF-S motors only expensive lenses like long teles and professional zooms were equipped with this very silent and quick focus mechanism. In 2005 the first budget lens was released in the form of the DX 18-55mm 3,5-5,6.

Reason for this will most likely be the exclusive use of SWM ring motors up until then. This type motor requires space inside the lens due to the fact that it encloses the lens elements in a ring form. Also the manufacturing costs are rather high, what also can be seen having a look at the repair part prices.

The 18-55mm DX kit lens uses a SWM micro motor for the first time. This motor looks like a regular electric motor, but works also on the basis of ultrasonic waves. The torque is then transferred to the lens group via a gear mechanism. This gear mechanism can be easily heard when focusing with a micro motor AF-S lens.

Some of the very cheap micro motor lenses can also be identified by having a look at the focus switch on the lens barrel. They only provide an A/M switch instead of an AM/M switch and therefore do not provide permanent manual focus due to the gear mechanism. More expensive lenses with micro motor are equipped with a clutch that simulates the behavior of a ring type AF-S and provides permanent manual focus.

During the years micro motors have been used across the lens portfolio, even in more expensive lenses. Almost all AF-S fix focal lenses below 105mm only have micro motors, regardless of pricing.

For many users only the ring type provides the real AF-S experience. They are usually faster, quieter and provide the better manual focus feeling.
This was the reason for me to compile the below list of AF-S lenses, split by ring SWM or micro SWM. For some lenses I am not completely sure, they are marked with a question mark. If you can provide additional information on those, you are free to mail me at „info@”

The list also contains some surprises. The first DX kit lens, the 18-70mm 3,5-4,5 DX IF-ED also made use of a ring type motor. The two years older AF-S 24-85mm 3,5-4,5 G IF-ED without VR is a close cousin and also uses a ring SWM. The 18-70mm is most likely the lens with the highest production volume of any ring type AF-S Nikkor.
The second surprise is the AF-S 50mm 1,4 G. As only lens below 105mm it also features an ring SWM. Supposedly the development of this lens began before Nikon was able to build micro motor AF-S lenses with clutch.

Recently a new type of focus motor appeared with the AF-P lenses. All AF-P lenses are not listed below, since they can be recognized by the model name.

AF-S ring motor: SWM

50mm 1,4 G
60mm 2,8 G IF-ED Micro
105mm 2,8 G IF-ED VR Micro
200mm 2,0 G IF-ED VR and successor
300mm 4,0 D IF-ED and successor
300mm 2,8 D IF-ED and successor
400mm 2,8 D IF-ED and successor
500mm 4,0 D IF-ED and successor
600mm 4,0 D IF-ED and successor
800mm 5,6 E FL ED VR
8-15mm 3,5-4,5 E
14-24mm 2,8 G IF-ED
16-35mm 4,0 G IF-ED VR
17-35mm 2,8 D IF-ED
24-70mm 2,8 G ED and successor
24-85mm 3,5-4,5 G IF-ED
24-120mm 3,5-5,6 G IF-ED VR
28-70mm 2,8 D IF-ED
70-200mm 4,0 G IF-ED VR
80-200mm 2,8 D IF-ED
70-200mm 2,8 G IF-ED VR and successor
70-300mm 4,5-5,6 G IF-ED VR
80-400mm 4,5-5,6 G IF-ED VR and successor
200-400mm 4,0 G IF-ED VR and successor
(?) 10-24mm 3,5-4,5 G IF-ED DX
12-24mm 4,0 G IF-ED DX
17-55mm 2,8 G IF-ED DX
18-70mm 3,5-4,5 G IF-ED DX

AF-S micro motor: Micro SWM

20mm 1,8 G ED
24mm 1,4 G ED
24mm 1,8 G ED
28mm 1,8 G
28mm 1,4 E (?)
35mm 1,4 G
35mm 1,8 G ED
35mm 1,8 G DX
40mm 2,8 G Micro DX
50mm 1,8 G
(?) 58mm 1,4 G IF-ED
85mm 1,4 G
85mm 1,8 G
85mm 3,5 G Micro DX
105mm 1,4 E ED
24-85mm 3,5-4,5 G IF-ED VR
24-120mm 4,0 G IF-ED VR
28-300mm 3,5-5,6 G IF-ED VR
16-85mm 3,5-5,6 G IF-ED VR DX
16-80mm 2,8-4,0 E IF-ED VR DX
18-55mm 3,5-5,6 G ED DX and successor
18-105mm 3,5-4,5 G IF-ED VR DX
18-135mm 3,5-5,6 G IF-ED DX
18-140mm 3,5-5,6 G IF-ED VR DX
18-200mm 3,5-5,6 G IF-ED VR DX and successor (?: 1st version also micro SWM?)
18-300mm 3,5-5,6 G IF-ED VR DX
55-200mm 4,0-5,6 G ED DX and successor
55-300mm 4,5-5,6 G IF-ED DX

D500 – advantages, disadvantages and target audience

For many people a central question for the selection of the next camera is: FX or DX? Especially the current situation, where a D750 costs less than a D500 creates a lot of debate which to pick.

The advantages of the D500 are:

  • Autofocus: Without a doubt this is the main feature of the camera, which differentiates it from the direct competition. Especially tracking of moving subjects has been improved by a big margin, even compared to the D4/D4s generation. The huge spread of AF sensors across the frame, caused by the DX sensor size, is also a big plus for sports and wildlife photographers.
  • Frame rate and huge buffer (especially with XQD cards)
  • Camera body equipped with the button layout of the pro class (AF-on, 10 pin connector, round viewfinder). I did not write pro-body for a reason. The build quality is by far the best within the DX class, but compared to FX the D500 sits between the D750 and the D810. Time will tell if this is the new “pro” build quality level below the single digit bodies (D4, D5,…). The D500 has no bad build quality, far from that, but it is less massive and solid compared to a D810 or D300/D300s.

Absolute image quality and high ISO shooting are not the strong points of the D500. For DX the D500 represents for sure the optimum right now, but the FX competition cannot be denied. If you want the best image quality, there is no alternative to a FX camera. D810 and even D750 are better overall with cleaner images at all ISO levels.

So, what is the audience for the D500? People, who:

  • Need high continuous frame rate
  • Want to have the best AF right now and do not want to spend 7.000 € for a D5 or are not willing to wait for the next mid-class FX body generation.
  • Need a wide spread of AF sensors across the frame. In this regard the D500 will be in the lead within the Nikon system for quite some time.
  • Need the effect of the “DX tele converter”.

All of this puts the D500 in some sort of niche. Sports and wildlife photographers seem to be the main target group of the D500. High ISO enthusiasts better choose a used D4/D4s or Df, people in need of high resolution and the best overall picture quality the D810 (with some impact to the AF performance).

Nevertheless it is understandable that many photographers outside of the above mentioned groups are longing for a D500. She combines the best AF system to date with slight compromises in picture quality and high ISO performance. The pro control layout also might be a main factor for many people, especially compared to the D750. This also makes the D500 attractive as an additional body besides a D800/D810 or D4/D5.

The D500 has some issues, much like the D750 had at the start. The battery problem is currently solved by Nikon in a very customer friendly way by exchanging old EN-EL15 batteries with new ones. Three four year old batteries that I sent in were exchanged in less than one week by the Nikon service here in Germany without any issues.

Regarding SD cards the situation looks a bit different. The available firmware update is a workaround, which just diminishes the issues with UHS-II cards.

The D750 ha overcome those teething issues, which might be a factor for decision. In the end the individual preferences compared to the strengths and weaknesses of the different camera bodies are important. For me, the D500 is the ideal companion for a D800 and D4. Photographers, who might want to use only one camera body might favor a D750.

© 2019 Dennis Saßmannshausen Photography

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