Upgrade path to full frame - DSLR vs. mirrorless

adamhiram

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I’ve been contemplating moving to full frame for a while now for various reasons - shallower depth of field for the same effective focal length / field of view, better working distances for the same lenses, etc. My issue is that Nikon and everyone else threw a wrench in the works with mirrorless. Whereas my upgrade path seemed pretty straightforward before, now there are more options, and none of them are ideal right now.

My original plan was to pickup something used, such as a D750. However, there are a number of reasons I held off.
  • Coming from a D500, anything under $1k is going to be a step down, at least in terms of autofocus, which is something I probably prioritize more than any other feature
  • I’m not sure now is the best time to start investing in higher end F-mount glass when Nikon is focused on mirrorless and Z-mount
  • It is also worth mentioning that these days, finding reasonably priced good condition used stock is getting pretty difficult
I also considered a D780 or D850, but then I’m looking at a much higher price point and the same concerns with new lenses potentially not holding their value in the future.

Of course the other option is to look at mirrorless, which would likely mean a Z6 or the new Z5. However I’m not completely sold on these yet either. I’ve heard mostly good things about the Z6, but that’s been out nearly 2 years, and there isn’t much of a used market for them. The Z5 hits a nice price point, but it kind of sounds like a watered down Z6 with almost every feature being worse than what I have now, other than a full frame sensor.

But the bigger issue is still lenses.
  • These all cost more than their F-mount equivalents. A 50mm f/1.8 is $600 instead of $200. An 85mm f/1.8 is $800 instead of $400.
  • There are significant gaps in the lens lineup, with common zoom ranges and primes not yet released, and currently available primes limited to f/1.8 right now
  • With everything being brand new or available at a future date, there is obviously no used market for these.
So that’s been my dilemma for the past year, and not much has changed. Right now, I’m leaning towards picking up a Z6, and hoping there will be some decent Black Friday sales. Since I already have a handful of f/1.8 F-mount primes, it makes sense to use them adapted until some of the new wider aperture Z-mount primes are announced. At that point, I can either invest in the higher end primes, or pickup used Z-mount f/1.8 lenses when everyone starts trading them in for the wider aperture ones.

I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this dilemma. With DSLRs possibly on their way out and mirrorless not quite ready for primetime, what’s a good upgrade path today?
 

JBPhotog

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Look for a used D810 to tide you over, prices are quite favourable for a decent body.

DSLR’s will be around for a while buy I would agree, mirrorless is the direction Nikon is spending R&D funds on. For a variety of reasons, the Z lenses can produce sharper results and fewer anomalies than F mount lenses and that is saying a lot considering there are some amazing F mount lenses.
 

smoke665

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I have a lot of years with SLR format, and at this point have no desire to move to mirroless. Pentax glass isn't cheap, especially that for full frame. The new FA 85mm f/1.4 will cost you $2k with tax, same with the FA 70-200mm f/2.8. The only way someone like myself could consider such an investment is the interchangeability between my APS-C K3II and the full frame K1MII. Not only that but based on past history I feel pretty sure that any new model Pentax that comes out will continue to follow the backward compatibility model, that allows me to use legacy glass all the way back to 1975.

Frankly I haven't seen any feature, on any mirroless that would entice me to dump years of accumulation and experience with what I have.
 

Strodav

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I am heavily invested in Nikon using a D500 for wildlife / birding and a D850 for everything else with a lot of AF-S glass. I like your thinking about a D750, which is a workhouse for professional event photographers, but suggest a D810 if you can swing it. The best place I have found to buy used gear is KEH.com. I really like their rating system and they have a no questions asked 14 day return policy. If you eventually buy a Nikon Z mount camera, you can use your newer Nikon FX glass with an adapter and eventually start buying Z mount glass. If you decide to go mirrorless right now, I like your thinking with the Z6, but be careful. I am not sure Nikon is going to make it. They are behind Sony and Canon in mirrorless technology (especially in AF) and their photography division is hemorrhaging money. I am waiting until I see Nikon release a camera that is clearly better than the D850 / D500 combination and competitive with Sony and Canon before I go Nikon mirrorless. I'm going to give it until next spring. If Nikon doesn't deliver by then, I'll probably pick up a Canon R5 and start selling my Nikon gear to KEH and start buying Canon glass.
 

Quassaw

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What do you intend to do with your new camera? For birding it's had to beat the D500, as you know, but the Z6 isn't bad. For sports it's very good once you've read the manual a dozen times and adjusted to the differences of the focusing system to the D500 etc. For studio/portrait work, which I use mine for, it's great! With the FTZ you can mount all (well, probably all!) your old Nikkors, but check first if you've got Tamron or Sigma lenses that you intend to use. I don't agree that they are behind Sony and Canon, but that's an argument I'm not going to get into - all modern cameras are much better than I'll ever be.
 

mjcmt

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I did the same mental gymnastics and just purchased a Nikon refurbished D750 from B&H. Nothing comes close to the price...nothing. I can use all my old MF Nikkor lenses and there is so much AF glass new and used that it was a not brainer. No need to use the Z adaptor and loose the AF capability. Its small for a FF almost Z6 size and even smaller w/o the adaptor. Lastly Z lenses are expensive and large...go figure. DSLRs will be here for the near future.
 

ac12

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I agree, WHAT is the use that you will put the FX camera to?
The D500 is pretty darn good, and really isn't a general purpose camera like the D7200.
Personally from a D7200 (24MP), I would go with a D750 (24MP) or D810 (36MP)
My issue with the D850 (45MP) is the significant weight increase.

The F mount dSLRs and lenses are not going away soon.
And with people going to the Z cameras, you should find better deals on used F mount gear. And if you get it for cheap, then you don't lose as much on the resale. Personally, I don't really intend to resell, so I don't worry about the F lens losing value vs. a Z lens.
If I were a pro, and I could get a good 5+ years use out of the gear, it would have paid for itself.
 

Derrel

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D800 or D810 would be my suggestion. These two cameras are available for a relatively good price on the used market. you really do not need too many lenses.

A 24 to 70 mm zoom, a 70-200, and maybe an 85 mm prime and a 50 mm prime and an extension tube set and you have 90% of your lens kit already. You might wish to have a wide-angle or a macro lens, or some other specialty lens.

I think the best way to purchase lenses is on the used market, and there are lots of good AF lenses on the market right now. If Nikon goes to the Z mount
market in a big way I would expect that the prices for used F-mount lenses would drop somewhat, and you could purchase whatever you wanted at a good price.

I would not worry too much about your investment. I have found that high quality Nikon lenses are good for at least 10 years . The b85 mm a f s g
Is an incredibly sharp lens -perhaps the sharpest lens under $3,000. The 70 to 200 mm models are quite good.

the 300mm F4 AFS is quite good. The 180mm afd f 2.8 is quite good and is available for around $300 used. I do not think the Z mount lens lineup is complete enough unless you are happy with just three or four lenses.

In the past few years Nikon has upgraded their 80- 400 to a pretty good AFS model, and they have also introduced the 200 - 500 for a fairly affordable price oh, and they also have quite a few other outstanding lenses such as the new G series wide-angles and the 60 and 105 mm macro models. The F-mount AF lenses are in their full maturity, whereas the z series lenses are in their infancy. I myself would be happier with a good set of fully mature lenses than I would be with four or even five brand new lenses that represent the emergence of a new mount.
 
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Destin

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I am heavily invested in Nikon using a D500 for wildlife / birding and a D850 for everything else with a lot of AF-S glass. I like your thinking about a D750, which is a workhouse for professional event photographers, but suggest a D810 if you can swing it. The best place I have found to buy used gear is KEH.com. I really like their rating system and they have a no questions asked 14 day return policy. If you eventually buy a Nikon Z mount camera, you can use your newer Nikon FX glass with an adapter and eventually start buying Z mount glass. If you decide to go mirrorless right now, I like your thinking with the Z6, but be careful. I am not sure Nikon is going to make it. They are behind Sony and Canon in mirrorless technology (especially in AF) and their photography division is hemorrhaging money. I am waiting until I see Nikon release a camera that is clearly better than the D850 / D500 combination and competitive with Sony and Canon before I go Nikon mirrorless. I'm going to give it until next spring. If Nikon doesn't deliver by then, I'll probably pick up a Canon R5 and start selling my Nikon gear to KEH and start buying Canon glass.

This is exactly the path I’d be looking at were I still shooting Nikon and making the switch now. I think it just makes the most sense if you want to stick to full frame. Alas, I made the jump from this same kit (D850/D500) to a single Fuji x-t3 a while back, and I love it for what I shoot these days. Lighter, more user friendly, more compact.. and the lenses are super high quality at a reasonable price. Certainly not for everyone, just my experience. If you need/want full frame mirrorless I think canon is the best option right now.

FWIW: I chased full frame for a lot of years and spent tons of money upgrading my kit to it because I thought it was what I needed. Once I got there I certainly enjoyed it, but it really didn’t impress me as much as I had expected. Full frame is great, but totally unnecessary for 99% of people. I was told this dozens of times before upgrading to it but still felt like I just had to do it.. but I’ve been there and back, and I don’t miss it.
 

Derrel

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Fuji APS-C benefits highly from a full line of lenses optimized for crop frame use.Nikon and Canon have many glaring gaps when it comes to lenses that work well on crop frame bodies.

I really do not think there is a Fuji aps-c camera that can match the Nikon d850 when it comes to high resolution.

the d850 also has an amazing capability that many people are unaware of which is medium raw and small raw in an implementation that is vastly superior to the one used in the d810. The d850 uses a sensor that is not made by Sony.

I am much less familiar with the sensors used in Nikon's new z series mirrorless cameras.
 
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Derrel

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In the world in which I live there is almost never an ideal circumstance, and I would encourage you to look at your current situation as one in which there is no ideal course of action.

There are almost always trade-offs and compromises to be made.
 

Quassaw

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"Upgrade" is an interesting word. At the time I upgraded to FF my partner upgraded to a m4/3. We are both happy with our choices, as our requirements are different. Figure out what's wrong with your current kit (if anything!), then address that. A new D850 will cost something like £2,500 - that will buy you a lot of other things that may (or may not) improve your enjoyment of photography - 25 hours with a top model, a calendar full of studio time, a trip to North Korea to shoot soviet-era 'planes, workshops with a great landscape photographer. You could splash out on an Alpa 10d or the down-payment on an Ilford Witness if you really do want a new camera.

In short, if Full-Frame is the answer, make sure you know what the question is.

(PS: The D750 is a great camera!)
 
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adamhiram

adamhiram

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Thank you for the great feedback and discussion, it is definitely some good food for thought. I am in no rush to switch, but have been considering available options for a long time and have commented on countless threads where others have had these same questions. I thought this thread would be a good opportunity to dive deeper. Please pardon the long post!

These are my main reasons for switching to full frame. I did not want to sideline the main discussion on the merits of this rationale, but figured it would help with the conversation.
  • Shallower depth of field: This would be immensely beneficial for cluttered indoor spaces where I want to hide the background, as well as location shoots where I may not be able to find a clean background. This is just not possible on DX. For example, to get the same field of view and depth of field of an 85mm f/1.8 lens on a full frame body, I’d need a 50mm f/.95, which doesn’t exist.
  • Better working distances: I like to shoot headshots with an 85mm, full body shots at 50mm, and smaller group shots as wide as 35mm. At home I have about 24’ of space to work with, but as soon as I go on location, I rarely have this much room. That means I am now taking headshots at 50mm, full body shots end up being 35mm or wider. Any group shots are often at the wider end of my 17-55, and often require some lens corrections in post.
  • Better lens options: Nikon never fully built out their DX lens range as much as I would have liked. I love my 17-55, but it’s not nearly as sharp as a 24-70, especially in the long end. I have a Tokina 11-16, but it’s not even in the same ballpark as a Nikon 14-24. And I have almost purchased a 70-200 several times, but 70mm is just too long to be practical for things like indoor sports.
The big catch for me is autofocus performance. I am currently using a D500, and it really doesn't get better than that for autofocus. It's the same AF system in the D5 and D850. It's better than the D780 without switching to live view. And it is better than any of the used offerings worth considering. Almost anything else non-mirrorless would be a downgrade in AF performance, and I know this going in. What I really want doesn't exist; a full frame D500, without the higher resolution of the D850.

Some additional comments:
  • @JBPhotog: I agree for the most part, but would want to consider a longer-term strategy as well, not just something to tide me over. I question whether it makes more sense to buy a used F-mount 24-70, or spend twice as much on a new Z-mount version, which ironically is almost the same size and weight (why are we moving to mirrorless again?)
  • @smoke665: I definitely agreed with the cost of full frame or Z-mount lenses. At least with Nikon's F-mount, there’s a great used market if I don’t need the latest versions. Z-mount will inevitably be more expensive than new F-mount, and with no used market for a long time.
  • @Strodav: I have considered this as well - Nikon isn't doing so well financially, and they are trailing other manufacturers in mirrorless performance. Other brands certainly look appealing, but Canon and Sony have much steeper price tags to get into their mirrorless systems.
  • @Quassaw: Thank you, this is exactly the information I was looking for. Unless I want to pickup a D850, mirrorless seems to be the best option without sacrificing AF capabilities, and you nailed the 2 use cases I would be looking at. I’m still not sold on mirrorless, but am pretty intrigued by EyeAF and better 3D tracking.
  • @mjcmt: Thanks! For the price (at least a few months ago) it almost seemed like a no-brainer, but I was hesitant to give up my D500 for an older body with lesser AF capabilities. I agree about lens size - I never really understood the point of a smaller body with the same large glass, and mirrorless lenses seem to be getting bigger, not smaller (look at some of Sigma’s recent offerings).
  • @ac12: Excellent points about there being a growing second hand market for F-mount lenses. Of course this means treating lens purchases as a sunk cost with no real expectation for decent resale value.
  • @Derrel: While the lenses might have longevity, I'll probably want a new body in less than 10 years, and by then I'll need to either re-buy Z-mount versions or use them adapted. It’s really hard to tell if mirrorless is really the future, or if it’s mostly marketing hype, amplified by review sites and youtube personalities. It definitely seems like F-mount development has slowed though. For example, I have my doubts whether Nikon will ever update their 50mm f/1.4 for F-mount when they have yet to come out with one for Z-mount. It really feels like we’re in a 3-5 year purgatory for camera technology.
  • @Destin: I'm glad you chimed in, as I remember you being a D500 user for a while. I think we shoot pretty different things, so size and weight aren’t my main concerns. Of course I question how much utility I’ll get for these cases I mentioned above, and whether it’s really worth the cost and effort.
 

mjcmt

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Looks like Sony full frame is calling you if AF is key.
 

mjcmt

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  • @mjcmt: Thanks! For the price (at least a few months ago) it almost seemed like a no-brainer, but I was hesitant to give up my D500 for an older body with lesser AF capabilities. I agree about lens size - I never really understood the point of a smaller body with the same large glass, and mirrorless lenses seem to be getting bigger, not smaller (look at some of Sigma’s recent offerings).
Looks like Sony full frame is calling you if AF is key.
 

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