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Friday, 17 April 2009 22:15

Has Nikon introduced a dSLR for macro photography?  April 14, the company announced its new consumer D5000 dSLR.  Among its major selling points are 720p HD video recording, a 12 MP sensor, "Vari-angle" LCD monitor, and 19 Auto-exposure scene modes, at consumer-level pricing.

Yellow Grandiflora RoseWith a conventional optical viewfinder, the macro photographer finds himself contorted into odd positions trying to compose and focus while shooting low-to-the-ground flowers, moss, and bugs.  Right-angle finder attachments provide more convenience, but they often continue to put the photographer at odd angles, provide a dim image, and give a disconnected feeling, troubling to some photographers. Live View LCD screens on newer dSLRs help the situation.  The macro photographer can compose without being square-on to the optical viewfinder, since the LCD is usable over fairly wide angle of incidence.  But the LCD is fixed to the back of the camera, and the camera is low to the ground.  Since a millimeter's movement will throw a macro subject out of focus, temporarily tilting the camera for a more convenient view is out of the question.

The D5000's "Vari-angle" LCD monitor offers relief for the macro photographer's pain in the back.  It allows the macro photographer to twist the LCD for easy composing, focusing, and review.  Granted, some Olympus dSLRs and various digital point 'n' shoot cameras have similar LCDs that can be twisted to a more convenient viewing angle.  But this is the first dSLR that can also use existing Micro Nikkor lenses* and late model Speedlights.

Since the D5000 does not have a Depth of Field Preview button, it initially seems limited as a macro camera body.  However, dSLRs have the LCD, which provides instant feedback on depth of field, focus, and exposure immediately after taking a test shot.  Being able to immediately view a test shot relieves the lack of a Depth of Field Preview button, provided we get used to the workflow change.  Composing and initial focusing from a convenient angle is a welcome novelty.  But the clincher is not having to move the camera to clearly view a Depth of Field test shot, no matter the proximity of the camera to the ground!  Twisting the LCD is much more appealing than twisting our bodies as macro photographers have long needed to do.

Is the Nikon D500 the perfect macro dSLR?  No.  It does not include any mirror lock-up capability, important for eliminating the blur-inducing mirror slap at exposure.  The 230,000 dot LCD will not provide the crisp view that Nikon's higher end 920,000 dot LCDs provide.  On cameras that support both, Nikon disables Depth of Field Preview while in Live View, but this camera does not even have a DOF Preview button.  It does not have a flash Commander Mode, limiting the control over Nikon Speedlights offered by many higher-end Nikon dSLRs.  And as is the trend with recent consumer dSLRs, it uses the physically tiny SD memory cards, while prosumer and pro bodies use larger, easy to handle Compact Flash cards.  Many find that SD cards are clumsy with cold fingers, or in the heat of the moment, but the SD card format permits the creation of a smaller camera body.

My ideal macro dSLR would allow the use of existing Nikon lenses, auto-focusing lenses with or without an internal AF motor, would have a Vari-angle LCD, but with the high resolution screen such as that offered by the 9200,000 dot LCD used on the D300, D700, D3, and D3x, would support DOF Preview in Live View, and use CF memory cards for easy handling.  The technology all exists to provide this ideal macro dSLR.  Does Nikon product development have more in store for macro photographers?

The "Vari-angle" LCD screen on the D5000 is a big advance, making the D5000 a useful addition to the macro photographer's tool kit.

* AF-S and AF-I lenses will autofocus.  Older CPU lenses without an integral AF motor will not autofocus, a very minor limitation for macro work.  Additionally, non-CPU lenses will not provide metering - leaving histogram-checking for exposure guidance.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 August 2010 10:43
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