My First Real Camera: Nikon D750

Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than spending big $$. But spend I did, splurge I did, on a full frame DSLR camera and a constant aperture mid-range zoom lens.

My new photography gear.
AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Lens mounted on a Nikon D750

Shopping for my camera was in and of itself an experience. A month long endeavor that included hours of online research, many conversations with friends, experts and multiple visits to the venerable New York institution - The B&H mega store. The B&H store is a gadget wonderland and a humongous one at that. Folks that work there are probably the most knowledgeable and the most helpful that you can find anywhere. The more specific you are, the more helpful they are. What I gleaned from my many conversations with them in person, online & on the phone could provide enough material for a full blown course in photography!

Canon vs Nikon vs Sony

Although I was surrounded by Canon loyalists, for some unknown reason I was drawn to Nikon. Nikon was always on my mind. When I casually mentioned my interest in photography, a generous friend of ours immediately loaned me his DSLR. To my surprise it was a crop sensor Nikon. I took that as a sign of things to come or rather a sign of cameras to come 😊.

Over the last few months, I had taken many photography courses. Almost all of the instructors were toting a Canon. Particularly, Canon 5D Mark II was omnipresent. After test handling a couple of them, I decided against that option. They were pricier and bulkier.

My next option was the Sony Alpha A7 mirrorless full frame camera. Not one but three trusted photographers pointed me in that direction. The camera body was a pleasure to handle. So light, so small. It felt like this one was made for me. Not to mention that this was by far the cheapest full frame camera. I was sold. I started dreaming about the Alpha A7! I had almost made up my mind. So I went lens shopping for the the Alpha A7 which put me firmly back in the Nikon camp. The FE mount lenses were longer and bulkier. When I mounted them on the camera body, the weight distribution felt odd and it was uncomfortable for me to support the equipment. It didn't feel right, literally.

The Alpha A7 however had an interesting feature that appealed to me. It had an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that was smart enough to show the scene as it would appear once the picture is shot. You get to see what you would get. None of the other full frame cameras had an EVF. For a while I kept going back & forth between D750 & Alpha A7. Finally, when I couldn't wait anymore, I went ahead and bought the Nikon D750. It had what I was looking for. It had a full frame sensor, had wifi and felt right when I held it in my hand with or without the lenses. It had some bonus features as well such as an in-built flash, free software to convert the raw files to JPG and came with a Ruggard camera bag that could hold 3 additional lenses and a flash.


I really wanted to buy a set of 2 prime lenses (50mm & 80mm) and a telephoto lens. All of them with constant aperture. My friend had earlier loaned me his camera with a zoom lens with varying aperture & I struggled with the f stop moving around. I was keen to buy one with a constant f stop. I also wanted to buy wide open lenses (i.e., have low f number, say 1.2 or 1.8 or 2). However, these were quite expensive. I really didn't have the stomach to buy multiple wide open prime lenses. So I settled for the Nikkor 24-200 mm mid range zoom lens with a constant aperture of f4. As I pursue this path, I plan to save up and buy the wide open prime lenses over time. After all, the spending journey has just begun 😉.

A short glossary to demystify some of the photography jargon

Full Frame - refers to the sensor size. Full frame is comparable to the 35mm film format. Crop sensor a.k.a APSC or DX format in the Nikon world is a smaller sensor. Large sensors are useful for  architectural photography, which is where I began my journey in photography. It also provides a shallower depth of field, which is useful for achieving the much-loved bokeh effect in my portraits. Medium & Large format DSLRs come with even larger sensors. But they are way to bulky and pricey and hence impractical. In general larger the sensor, the larger the camera.

Mirrorless Camera - Sony has come up with these new mirrorless cameras that have full frame sensors. By removing the mirror, they have made these cameras really light and small. These look & feel like your little pocket cameras but can do all that traditional full frames do.

FE Mount lens - Lens developed by Sony specifically for their full-frame, mirrorless cameras. In general they were more expensive, longer and bigger than traditional DSLR lenses. Somehow it seems like whatever size they managed to shrink in the mirrorless camera body was added back to these lenses. 

Focal Length - In the most simplest terms, it determines how wide or narrow your view is. smaller the focal length, wider your view.  Typically, a 35mm lens is used for wide angle landscape photos. 50mm is the closest to what you can view with you naked eye. 85mm for more close up portrait shots. 

Prime Lens - These have fixed focal length. These are definitely better. You get a much sharper image. Individually, these lenses are not that expensive, but if you want to buy a few to suit your different needs, then they add up. 

Zoom Lens - Provide a range of focal lengths. You can keep zooming in & out without changing lenses to suit your needs. They are versatile but not ideal. These are as they "Jack of more trades but master of none". I ended up buying one of these to get started.

Aperture - It refers to the opening in the lens through which light can pass and is measured using f/stop numbers. The lower the f/stop number, the wider the opening and also more expensive the lens. 

Some times these lower f/stop number lenses are referred to as fast lenses. The faster the lens the better.

More on aperture - I was looking for 2 things in my lenses: I wanted to shoot wide open & I also wanted a constant aperture lens. The original lens that I got my hands on had a varying maximum aperture, where the f-stop kept monkeying around as I adjusted the focal length. This drove me crazy. Higher end zoom lenses had a fixed maximum aperture. I decided to spend on constant maximum aperture and save for wider, prime lenses. The one that I got has a maximum aperture of f/4 while I wanted something in the 2s or even lower.

Final note on lenses - Essentially you can have a lens with varying focal length & varying aperture. The more variable elements there are, the worse the lens performs. Such lenses tend to be temptingly cheaper options. I went for a varying focal length (zoom lens) with constant aperture. However, I keep wondering if I should have actually gone all the way and bought the prime lens trio as I had originally desired.

In a nutshell...
Camera OptionsMore Desirable
(more expensive)
(less expensive)
My choice
Sensor sizeLarger (large format, medium format and full frame in that order)Smaller (crop sensor a.k.a apsc or DX, micro sensors)Full frame (~35mm sensor)
Lens - focal lengthPrime. These have fixed focal lengths. We may have to buy multiple lenses.Zoom lens. Have a range of focal lengths.24-120mm zoom lens. Although I wish I had purchased a set of 3 prime lenses.
ApertureWide open. Low f/stop number. a.k.a fast lenses.Narrow. high f/stop number. slow lenses.f/4 - narrower than what I would have liked.
Aperture againConstant max apertureVarying max aperture.Constant max aperture.

Shutter speed - We haven't talked about shutter speed yet. It is closely related to how wide your maximum aperture is & is measured in fractions of a second. The wider the aperture, the faster you can shoot. The narrower the aperture, the more you may have to slow it down to let more light in which in turn can result in a blurry image. When using a slower lens (narrower aperture), you either get a darker image (fast shutter speed) or a blurry image (slow shutter speed). 
ISO - This refers to the light sensitivity of your sensor. I still cannot believe that the acronym actually stands for "International Organization for Standardization". I don't understand why the world of photography would use this generic acronym to refer to & measure light sensitivity. Anyways, in general more ISO results in a brighter image and also a more noisier image. If you have a narrower lens & if you are using a faster shutter speed to avoid blurring, one way to get a brighter image is to increase the ISO. 

Here are some web resources that I found useful as I refined my choice:
DPReview (I always started here)
Snapsort (A great site to compare and contrast your options)
PetaPixel (Has some interesting tips & tutorials)

And lastly here is a picture from my first photo-shoot using the new gear. This picture was taken as part of a holiday photo session for a mom & son duo. You can find my portfolio at seetha.photoshelter.com.

Snowball fight along the Hudson river.
Nikon D750. 92mm - 1/60th @ f/4 - ISO 1270.

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