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Nikon DSLR's for Cultural Heritage Documentation

Last year I decided to upgrade from my trusty Nikon D80 in order to get some new features like live view, sensor cleaning, wireless options and video.  I also wanted my next camera to be capable of performing various functions for cultural heritage imaging like RTI for our practice Kept Art Restoration. In the process I made some unhappy discoveries that really don't emerge when reading spec sheets or even reviews.

I have a set of DX lenses and didn't want to buy new lenses.  This limited my choices to the D3200, D5200 and D7100.

D3200: No Tethered Capture

On paper the D3200 looked like it would suffice, but it turns out that this device, and its predecessor the D3100, are the only Nikon DSLR models in the last five years or so that do not support operation via USB cable ("tethered capture"), which is required for our RTI workflow.  The only way I could have known that before buying it was by reading the compatibility lists of tethered capture software like Sofortbild, but at the time the camera was too new for any of those software developers to mention them. Also there is no drive motor, but that hadn't affected me yet (see below). So back it went.

D5200: NO Drive Motor

I really wanted the D5200 to work.  It has a nifty flip-out screen that is not only great for video, but is really attractive for copy-stand work, to avoid having to crane uncomfortably over the rig.  It wasn't too expensive, is supported by app developers for tethered capture, had in-camera HDR, great autofocus, and was only a little larger and heavier than the D3200.  Alas, it does not include a focusing drive motor.  Not a problem for my main lens (the Nikkor 18-200 VR has its own motor). But my all-important (for shooting art) Nikkor 60mm macro and my best-looking lens (the Nikkor 50mm prime) became incredibly difficult to use, especially shooting outdoors where the LCD was hard to see.  So back it went.

D7100: This Is The One

About $500 more, I wasn't happy that I was forced to upgrade to the 7100, which lacks the nifty flip-out display.  It's heavier and bigger, too.  I even considered abandining Nikon and looked into lome DSLR bundles with new lenses but it just wasn't cost-effective for me.  So I exchanged the D5200 for the D7100 (Adorama was surprisingly accommodating about it, just charging me the difference.  I called them because it was suspiciously easy, but I really didn't need to, their downloadable RMA return form has a place for all that.)  But:  The LCD is huge and detailed, the viewfinder is larger and brighter, it's weather-sealed (photogrammetry in iffy weather?), has no low-pass filter on the sensor for incredible precision, and can't be beat for shooting fast action (shutter speeds and even better autofocus).  There are a number of great video features that I won't go into here. Also, I had gotten used to using two command dials on the D80, and only the D7100 has that. This camera will last me personally and professionally for years.

I want to mention in a little more detail about the Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) that has been omitted in this device. Usually sensors have a filter for antialiasing -- a slight blur can prevent unsightly moiré patterns when shooting textures, at the expense of detail.  For shooting art I'd rather do that filtering in software afterward, so that I can control how and when I sacrifice detail.  There are many new advancements in image data processing, so it's even possible that moiré and other undesirable effects can be eliminated without loss of detail where it counts.  This might not be for everyone, but you can easily replicate it using programs like Adobe Lightroom, which can automatically (and non-destructively, which means you can adjust it later) apply that filtering to every picture downloaded from your camera if you prefer it, so it really doesn't have to make a difference.  But I'm looking forward to an insane level of detail from my macro shots of artwork with this camera.

I do wish the wireless were integrated instead of having to add a bulky and expensive dongle to the camera.

I actually wish there weren't quite so many megapixels; I shoot raw (uncompressed) files so the 24 megapixel file sizes are massive, about 30MB each, which is a pain to back up. 14-18 is fine by me.  I can use Adobe DNG Converter to reduce the megapixel count while still preserving the editability of RAW data, (further information about the Converter can be found in the AIC guide to Digital Photography and Conservation Documentation), so I'll experiment with that. But I'm sure I'll be glad I can zero in on details in a picture with full resolution.

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