It’s Not Just Me, Darwin!

I am not a gear-head.

In fact, I hate having to trade-up my old digital camera for a newer model just when I’ve gotten all the knobs and dials memorized. The way I see it, camera manufacturers have a vested interest in separating me from my hard-earned cash and my job is to hang on to my money unless I really need something. (Note I wrote ‘need’, not ‘want’.) When you are running your own business, you have to be tough minded about spending money on items that are truly worth their value and will help you do your job.

But sometimes, you just have to upgrade. With digital technology, the speed at which advancements are made is mind-boggling and often difficult for beginner or impoverished shooters to keep up. The cost of replacing your camera every year or so can be prohibitive, especially when you trade in for gimmicks or pixels rather than true output quality. Everyone’s needs are different, and you have to be objective about yours. (Or maybe you are independently wealthy and can afford to flaunt the latest gear. That doesn’t make you smart though; some might call you a camera store owner’s wet dream.)

I own a Nikon D200. No, I am not on the cutting edge of the latest technology!! I really enjoy shooting detail in vegetation, especially grasses and leaves, so I like to see fine detail even in relatively low-contrast scenes. In the last year or so, I have been whining to my partner, Darwin, about muddy RAW files and softness in micro-contrast when I shoot dry, earth-toned vegetation. This problem is barely noticeable, and perhaps I would not even see the problem if I did not on occasion shoot the same scenes simultaneously with him and see his cameras’ RAW files. Darwin chalked it up to user errer: either I wasn’t focusing properly or my Photoshop skills just weren’t up to speed. But after his Rebel Xsi mounted with a Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 beat out my Nikkor 17-55mm f2.8 system, we decided to test my lens on a D300. Here is the unprocessed file produced by the D200 and Nikkor 17-55mm from our test:


And here is the unprocessed result we got with the Nikkor 17-55mm on the D300:


For the sake of comparison (and to assuage our curiosity) we also shot the same scene with the Rebel Xsi and Tamron 17-50mm f2.8. Here is the file it produced:


Well, did I ever feel vindicated! (Darwin is expressing his remorse by taking on toilet-cleaning duties for the next month.) There is a substantial quality difference between the D200 and the D300, and there is even a difference with the Rebel. While at first we thought the difference might be attributable to the lens, the same lens used on the D200 and D300 produced hugely different results. Just for extra comparison, here are details of each image at 100% magnification.

Image Comparison

I agree this is not a lab test. The images were all shot within moments of each other with circumstances as equal as possible (aperture, lens setting, etc.). No processing was done in Camera RAW or Photoshop. Although a fully controlled experiment in a lab might be more rigorous, frankly, I don’t care; I don’t shoot in a lab, I take pictures in the field. And that is where I want to test for variance.

So, there is obviously a qualitative improvement in the generation between D200 and D300 beyond just pixels. The D200 has 10.2 pixels and the D300 has 12.3. Big deal. But the muddiness and fuzziness is completely gone with the D300. The colours are true and the greatest amount of detail present. This might be worth the investment!! Anyone want a used D200…? If anyone has any similar experiences or ideas on the muddy D200 files, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.


~ by Samantha on July 9, 2009.

13 Responses to “It’s Not Just Me, Darwin!”

  1. Sam – Have you tried Capture NX2? I use it for my D2X files for two reasons – 1. I like the program and U point makes simple mask jobs easy peasy and 2. NIK software work in cahoots with Nikon so they have all the proprietary info for best RAW conversions. If you aren’t using it I can bring a laptop with it loaded to the Kelby photo walk and you can work a few files with it. Have you compared the histograms from the 200 and the 300 to see where are the biggest differenes? Remember too that the 200 is a CCD sensor while the 300 is CMOS. Just wait until the D3000 and the D300s come out in a month or so and you’ll be able to save a few bucks if you need to uprade.

  2. Samantha, I noticed a big difference on the upgrade from D200 to D700 but I expected that. I haven’t noticed the muddiness you refer to on my D200. I do use Capture NX2 for my processing, there may be something in it too. I have also modified the default settings in the D200 and that makes a difference in the RAW file you get out of the camera. Check to the settings in the D200 to make sure that they are similar to the D300.

    HTH, André

  3. My first digital was a D200 and I was very happy with the quality of the images, until I purchased my D300. There is no comparison, you are right and I love to say this, ‘Darwin was wrong’. My D200 sits while the D300 does all the work. But, I have another issue, I was foolish enough to purchase a D700 and I have been having issues getting the detail I currently get in the D300. With these 2 bodies it is substantially more difficult to compare due to the DX and FX format. I purchased the D700 for scenery, etc to get a little better quality and detail in the files. It was an expensive assumption that it would be better than the D300. Many fools are riding the FX bandwagon and the real winners are Nikon. Visa and smart shooters hanging on to the CMOS DX.

  4. My friend is using a 200 and he is very happy with it but he has recommended that I get a 300 if I am thinking to buy a digital SLR. Well, I am but I don’t have that kind of money right now! 😦

    It was interesting to see the comparative results and once again I am reminded that going digital is much more difficult than staying with film. I have put off buying a digital SLR exactly because I didn’t want to be looking at buying a new camera every three or four years. I am still using a Pentax 6×7 that I bought used in 1993 and the results are the same as back then because I am still using the same film.

    The 300 looks good and from what you wrote I am encouraged to buy it (when I have the money). But I don’t want to know if two years later an even better camera is out.

    By the way, I really love the colour and clarity of Darwin’s photo on page 32 of the latest Outdoor Photography Canada magazine.

  5. You know, (or don’t read this) given some of your other images on your site, I think the D200 fits more into your style. OK, the D300 has more juice, but the softness, and gentleness of the D200 image is really nice. Not as much pop from the trees, but still very nice. I like your landscape stuff a lot, and I think the D200’s image – at least these two examples might prove the point. On the other hand…. Peter wants to sell you something else :))

  6. […] and was impressed by how much better the details were in the files compared to the D200. She posted a blog about her tests and started to save up her pennies for a D300. Canon at the time had no APS-c […]

  7. Now that I’ve digested this blog entry and Darwin’s latest about the EOS 7D, I have a question for Sam: did you consider the Nikon D700 as well as the D300s? Was it a question of the price differential? I’m curious because I find myself in almost the same situation as you: I’m thinking of upgrading from my D200 and have been considering the D300s, but wonder if it makes more sense to add the bucks and go for the D700. (My focus [pun intended] is on landscape photography.)

    Anything you wish to add about your decisions would be a big help.


  8. Dave–I didn’t really consider the D700. Not because I don’t think it is a good camera or anything, but because I have lenses that work best with a cropped sensor and I have to weigh carefully whether I should go full frame and change my gear where necessary. Money doesn’t grow on trees in Photo Land!!

    If I hear anything juicy re: D300s vs D700, I’ll pass along to you.

  9. Leaves are green but the same green. My experience of landscape painter, is that digital, in general, has a serious problem with the greens. It gets them all the same hue, a kind of light-green spraye all over (or bottle-backlit-green). To avoid it you should underexpose heavily – and loose non green areas. That said, I see more differences between the leaves’ hues on the d200 sample. The d300 has its levels compressed already in raw – there might be some lost information that way. The d200 seems to do better for future post processing. This green problem is a MAJOR digital issue, that nobody talks about: digital does better with skin tones all right, and far worse with landscape greens, comparing to film. In short, that d200 of yours is to keep.

  10. joao, I like that you are coming from a painter’s background. But as one painter to another, I have to say–are you kidding me? Didn’t you see those muddy greens? When I mix pigment poorly, the greens end up all brown-tinted and dull. Very icky (that is the official term). So I have to disagree, even as one painter to another. I thought the D300 produced pure hue compared to the D200.

  11. Sam, I’m wondering what you use to process the raw files?
    Had a similar problem to yours with my d200 when using ufraw. I’ve since changed the camera profile I was using to a much better one snatched from a live Capture session and all the green “muddiness” is completely gone. Perhaps related to the problem you note?

  12. Hi Noons, I use Adobe Camera Raw. I prefer to use this as my converter since it works with all our other cameras. Otherwise, if this doesn’t answer your question then I don’t think I understand what you are asking.

  13. Ah, OK. Every Raw converter program uses what’s called a camera profile. That’s how it knows the compensation curves to apply to each camera – and a few other things. I’d say if you use ACR and it has a genuine profile for the D200, then that won’t be cause of the problem.
    The examples you posted looked exactly like the problem I had with ufraw when using a generic D200 profile. Had to fire up Capture NX and save the temporary profile file it created to the ufraw area. After that everything was fine and I got rid of the muddy greens. Had a similar problem with a D80: fixed the same way.

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