March Madness

What happens when cameras duke it out.

Copyright 2013 Thom Hogan

D800 Disqualified in March Madness for Cheating ;~)
Mar 28, 2013 updated (fun, news & commentary)--
Bet you weren't expecting that! Hey, I said this would be fun.

What the heck am I talking about, how can I disqualify something at this late date? Well, you might have noticed that I did something sneaky in the final ballots: I asked about the camera you shoot most often with, plus the cameras you own. I didn't ask that question in earlier rounds just to keep things simple, but I'd always planned on asking it at the end.

So here are the results of the final survey: D800 64, D3s 36 (%). That's the closest match the D800 has had yet, but still another in its dominations of the competition. Let's look at the details and see what might be happening.

When we crosstab the final round voting with what camera the person shoots with most, it turns out that the highest percentage of voters are using a D800 (27%). Obviously, they mostly voted for the D800 (90% to only 10% for the D3s). This is just enough to skew the overall voting more towards the D800. Indeed, if we look at D700, D2h, D2x, D3, D3s, D3x, and D4 shooters, they all had a strong majority for the D3s over the D800. There just aren't as many of them. The second highest number of voters shoot with the D300. They voted 55 to 45% for the D800 over the D3s. Interesting, the further down the consumer camera ranks we go, the more the vote also went towards the D800 instead of the D3s. While we don't have a large number of Canon shooters in the survey (~1%), they voted for the D3s. The even fewer Sony users voted for the D800. The 26 people who don't shoot with a DSLR at all voted for the D3s.

Looking at the most owned cameras, it breaks out like this: D300/D300s at 40% of the voters, D200 at 31%, D70 at 30%, D700 at 28.8%, D800 at 28.6%, and D7000 at 23.1%. We can start seeing why some cameras might not have polled well earlier: the D600 ownership is 7.6%, for example. Overall, the voters tended to skew about as I expected for this site: most of the 1.9 million of you that stopped by this site last year are relatively sophisticated about photography and have bought as high end a camera as you could afford. The prosumer Nikon DSLRs are all heavily represented in the voting ranks, the consumer DSLRs much less so.

Lurking under the main stats are two numbers that should make Nikon happy and very concerned, simultaneously. 10.4% of the voters have a Nikon 1 camera. That's higher than a lot of the consumer DSLRs. But what about m4/3 owners? That hit 17.8% of the voters in the finals! That tops the D80 and barely misses the D90 in number of voters having owned one. True, we don't have a strong idea of how many are still using these cameras (the second question asked "what is your primary DSLR?"). Still, more people have owned an m4/3 camera than a D600 or, get this, the D3000, D3100, D3200, D5000, D5100, and D5200 combined. Make of that what you will, but it's not good news for Nikon that there's been so much m4/3 sampling in this critical user base for them.

Remember, the whole set of March Madness articles is available as a linkable URL here.

Postnote: apparently D800 owners don't have a sense of humor. Despite my never having declared that the D3s is the winner, they all are sending me grumpy emails about how I can't disqualify the D800 just because someone who owned one voted for one. I understand that humor on the Internet isn't easy, and my sense of humor is as strange as they come, but I would have thought that people would have picked up on the fact I used the headline as a tease to the meat of the information presented: that D800 owners dominated the polls and voted heavily for their camera. Those that don't own a D800 don't see things the same way, though. Remember, this whole thing has been about perception. D800 owners perceive it as the top dog. Owners of something other than a D800 don't. Now there's something for you (and Nikon) to ponder. The VP of Marketing at Nikon should see this result as both a problem and an opportunity. It's a problem because someone who doesn't own a D800 doesn't value it as highly as someone who does. It's an opportunity because if you can figure out what's driving that perception, you can design marketing messages that correct it and sell more D800s.

And Then There Were Two
Mar 27, 2013 (fun & news)--
The Final Four have played off to determine our finalists:

#1 D800 versus #5 D4
The D800 wins, 75 to 25 (%). This turned out to be the D800's toughest match so far, but it still handily won and is looking good going into the finals.

#2 D3 versus #3 D3s
From the seedings, our first big upset, with the D3s winning 85 to 15 (%). But I was always a bit skeptical of the seedings for these two cameras, as the D3s is the exact same camera as the D3, only with better results in the high ISO areas (plus some minor things like video).

So now it's time for the final survey. Click here to vote.

Second Round Action Reveals the Final Four
Mar 24, 2013 (fun & news)--
We've got our final four:

#1 D800 versus #8 D3x
This was the battle of high resolution pro cameras, one of which has a stronger body, but the D800 still managed to win handily, 83 to 17 (%).

Personally, I expected this battle to be closer, but I suspect the price differential had a lot to do with things. My D3x never took a bad picture. Ever. It was my preferred camera. At least until the D800 came along. I'd rather have the D3x body (battery life mostly), but there's no arguing that the D800 produces better image quality pretty much across the board, the D800E even more so at the fast apertures. I can live with the result, but it's sad to see such a reliable standard bearer pass. Nikon users never warmed to the stratospheric price of the D3x, it seems. I'll bet that the D800 could have used the same 24mp sensor as the D3x and the D3x might not have won this round.

#2 D3 versus #7 D7000
Surprisingly closer than the previous match: D3 68, D7000 32 (%).

It's exceedingly tough to stay relevant in the fast moving camera market. In 2007, the D3 was a camera considered far ahead of the rest of the Nikon pack. The D300 was the mini-me of the D3. So it's a little surprising that the D7000 did so well here, given that it's a consumer body, not pro, that it's DX not FX, and that it's never had the same unblemished reputation that the D3 had. There's a reason why Nikon sold a lot of D7000's, though: it's a good camera. A strong, well-rounded camera with very few flaws. Nikon should be proud of it and how far it came in this tournament.

#3 D3s versus #6 D300
A mirror of the previous game, with the D3s winning 67 to 33 (%).

At first it seems odd that the D7000 and D300 fared nearly identically against two versions of the D3. I would have to speculate that with the crowd that reads my site, we're seeing the "we want highly capable DX bodies" sentiment once again showing, and in a slightly unexpected way. My comment about the D3s echoes that I made about the D3x: my D3s never took a bad picture. For low light and high frame rate work it was my preferred camera. Indeed, the D3s/D3x coupling was my main system for quite some time. They were great cameras, and they remain great cameras. They still play a mean game. I can't say the same for the D300 or D7000, though. Both have slowly worked their way out of my regular use, as other things have proven to be better for the uses I made of those bodies. Yet here they are making a respectable showing against one of Nikon's best designs. Who says DX is dead?

#4 D700 versus #5 D4
And we have an upset: the D4 squeaks by with a 54 to 46 (%) win.

This result certainly raised my eyebrows a bit. The D700 has been a sentimental favorite amongst the voters. It really was the first affordable FX body that nearly matched the best (D3 at the time). I once wrote that the D700 was my Desert Island camera: if forced to only have one camera, the D700 was a wonderful compromise at the time, retaining most everything that made a D3 good, but in a cut down body that even had a benefit the D3 didn't (commander mode on a built-in flash). So it's no surprise that it's done well in the voting. What does surprise me is that the D4, which doesn't get a lot of mention and has pretty much disappeared from most camera commentary, did so well. Many sites, including this one, haven't even reviewed the camera yet, a year after it appeared (coming soon, I promise). So this has to truly be a perception vote (especially considering how many responses this survey is getting; I'm pretty sure there aren't that many D4 users voting).

Which brings us to an all-FX final four:

#1 D800 versus #5 D4 -- it's the top two cameras of the new generation, going head to head
#2 D3 versus #3 D3s -- the older twins are up against each other

Voting is now open. Just click here for the two-question survey.

Those of you who took the survey know that there were two "street games" that were played. I'm not going to report those results yet, as they could impact the final four, but the results were interesting. And what happened to Faux Dickie V? Well, he lost his voice shouting "dipsy-doo dunkeroo slam-jam-bam, baby!" a few times too many during the voting. But he did send me this email after he saw the results. "Wow, four PTPs right there. Remember, photography requires individuality, decision making, and creativity. Now forget that and go out and use those cameras the way the makers designed them." [For those who don't know V: PTP = Prime Time Player]

March Madness Brackets First Round
Mar 20, 2013 (fun & news)--
The first round games have been played, and we have the results and commentary. Before we get to that, I want to remind everyone that what's being revealed here is general perception more than anything else. The actual best camera for you is not necessarily the eventual winner of this contest. What we're seeing here is a general sense of the serious Nikon user's psyche. The second round survey is also now open.

#1 D800 versus #16 D3200
No one expected the bottom seed to prevail, and it hasn't, with a final score of 95 for the D800 to 5 (%) for the D3200. One person commented that pitting the DX cameras up against the FX cameras was like a bunch of shorter guards trying to play against huge forwards and centers: there's a natural size advantage at work here. Here's what Faux Bobby Knight had to say about this match: "You don't play against opponents, you play with the photography you create. The D3200 didn't take many photographs, it appears, but it's perfectly capable of doing so."

I'd argue that the D3200 had a real problem going into this match: it was going up against what is looking like Nikon's current "halo" product. I've seen a lot of folk buying D800's when it's clear they'll never get everything out of the camera that it's capable of. They just want the "best camera" Nikon makes (that they can afford). It should be noted that the D3200 played its way into this match: if it had been the D3100 or D3000, it would have never made the tournament. So there's a bit of a win for the low-consumer body program right there. Still, this was a trouncing, which just goes to show how much perception there is that the D800 is the top DSLR out there at the moment. I wonder how much worse the game would have been if there weren't those focus problems with the D800?

#2 D3 versus #15 D90
A lot of folk thought the D90 got slighted in rankings. After all, with basically the same sensor as the D300, the D90 extracted out a bit more image quality, plus it was the first DSLR to have video. Those have to count for something, right? The final score says that it does: D3 82, D90 18 (%). The D3 is a seminal Nikon camera, one that is often credited for turning things fully around for Nikon amongst the pros (along with the D300) and halting the slow market share siphon to Canon. So it's well perceived by the Nikon faithful, obviously. Still, the D90 fared far better than the D3200. Faux Bobby Knight: "All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most go on to greater things. The D90 learned to do video early, but it needed to go on and do greater things and didn't."

Personally, I thought this match came out at about the right level. The D90 was a very good camera, especially coming after the D80 and fixing most of that camera's problems. The video was a bit of a gimmick then, but it prepared us for what was to come. To even make a showing against a camera as well regarded as the D3 tells us a lot about the D90's abilities: good, but not great enough for a perception upset.

#3 D3s versus #14 S3 Pro
A drubbing, with the D3s winning 96 to 4 (%). The S3 Pro was a Frankenteam, part Nikon, part Fujifilm, but that didn't help when they drew up against arguably one of the best pro cameras ever. Faux Bobby Knight put it this way: "Cameras change over the years, and that changes things for good and for bad."

Faux Bobby has a point. The S3 Pro was a go to camera for the wedding crowd back in its days. But no longer. The D3s is a current low light champ, and one trend in weddings these days is no extra lighting. It's an available light world now, and the S3 Pro can't keep up with the current players here. On the other hand, with Fujifilm leaving the F-mount tournament completely, we've lost Fujifilm's subtle and seductive color tuning and crisp, pleasurable JPEG files. Dealing with extremes won this match; out of camera results takes a step backwards with Fujifilm's defeats. They're off playing in another league now, with many of the same ingredients, so it's not a total loss. Still, Fujifilm is missed in the DSLR world. They just never put together the camera that "had it all."

#4 D700 versus #13 D600
The closest match so far, with the D700 pulling out a 64 to 36 win (%). Faux Bobby went right to the heart of the matter: "Your biggest opponent isn't the other guy. It's human nature."

While this was the closest match, the results are flipped from the expected capabilities of the players. Why? Human nature. The D700 audience just doesn't think they got the update they wanted, so they're punishing the D600 for that. On paper, the D600 ought to win a close match, but in practice it's perception that does it in: 5.5 is not 8, the body build is lower quality, and you can't see the actual game it plays through all the dust comments. My computer ratings show that the D600 should have been a slight favorite here: lower initial price, better image quality, video, lots of refinement, though in a slightly less than pro package. But the pro team gutted out the win, nonetheless.

#5 D4 versus #12 S2 Pro
Surprisingly a bit better than the other Nikon/Fujifilm match, but not by much: D4 winning 95 to 5 (%). Faux Bobby reached for his comment on this one: "If the D4 was on channel five and a bunch of S2 Pros were making love on channel four, I’d watch the S2 Pro, even if they were coming in fuzzy.”

Coach Knight, faux or real, never really liked the pros, so we'll discount his comment a bit here. It's another of the FX versus DX matches, so there's a strong bias right up front. But the S2 Pro is even more of a Frankenteam than the S3 Pro, and it played with no consistency of interface against a power house. No match. Still, as I noted before, you gotta love that Fujifilm out of camera JPEG. Still, the S2 Pro was a bit of a one-talent contender and the D4 has plays none of the others in the tournament can match.

#6 D300 versus #11 D200
The update stomps its predecessor 93 to 7 (%). Classic faux Bobby: "Everybody hears, but few listen. Nikon listened for a change."

Historically, the D200 was a great camera. Still is. But what problem with the D200 you might have wasn't actually fixed in putting together the D300 team? If we had run a game between the D3 and D300 back in 2007 when these teams first appeared, I'm not sure who would have won, they were so closely matched (and one team's strength over the other was balanced with something else that was a weakness). Some of you probably thought the D200 would do better here, but I was expecting a stomping. If you think about the most talked about, highest regarded DSLRs ever, the D300 is definitely on the short list. The D200 is just off that list. A D200 win would have been a clear upset.

#7 D7000 versus #10 D2x
A bit of a surprise, actually, as at base ISO I'd judge the D2x to still be better, and it's certainly fielding a far better team of features. But the newer D7000 wins 81 to 19 (%). Faux Bobby: "My wife thinks I'm outdated sometimes. What the hell am I going to say to her? I just nod my head and keep right on. Same with some teams and their coaches."

That so defines the D2x. Those of you still shooting it at base ISO know what he's saying. There's something very nice about D2x images shot that way. Lots of acuity, good (but not great) dynamic range, some kind of micro contrast clarity that we lost with some of the newer sensors, and Nikon's most tweaked color of any DSLR camera (so much so that they had to come up with D2x Picture Controls to please the D3 crowd). Used right, the D2x just keeps going, like faux Bobby. But the newer D7000 managed to beat it. Doesn't matter, the D2x walked off the court proud and will keep playing with anyone who wants an outdoor game.

#8 D3x versus #9 D70
The second closest match, with the D3x pulling it out 68 to 32 (%). Here we go, faux Bobby finally got riled up and started using some of his classic rant language: "We just got our a** beat by a much better team. It happens once in a while. Does every team win every game? Does every camera make every shot?"

Of course, the D70 had a far smaller team budget ;~). Amazingly, though, the D70 was the DX camera that gave an FX camera the biggest scare. Would you have guessed that before the games got played?

We really only had one key recent player eliminated in the first round (the D600).
That makes our next round of Elite Eight an awesome (baby) set of match-ups:

#1 D800 versus #8 D3x -- the battle of resolution champs
#2 D3 versus #7 D7000 -- two rapidly updated contenders at different levels
#3 D3s versus #6 D300 -- two pro 12mp cameras dueling it out
#4 D700 versus #5 D4 -- do megapixels, low light, and features count?

Funny thing is, I made the bracket seeding based upon a formula from your original survey responses. It turns out that this has coincidentally generated a very interesting set of pairings for this round. I would have preferred the D300 go up against the D700 and the D4 go up against the D3s, but that's not how the ball bounced. The match-ups are still very interesting pairs that have some shared commonality, and they're all recent cameras, so the tournament is really on, baby. As you might guess from the wording, Dickie V is our faux commentator for round two.

The next round of games have begun. You can help your favorite to victory by filling out this short survey.

March Madness Brackets Have Been Established
Mar 17, 2013 (fun & news)--
The playoffs have started (see end of this story), but before we get to that we need to talk about the survey I used to help me form the brackets. As some of you guessed, I was intentionally simplistic in the survey design. Essentially it's a straw poll, and just enough information to tell us where you folk sit on Nikon's camera designs in a general sense. For the record, over 6000 of you took the poll, so we've definitely got enough data here to start a discussion.

Because the Nikon DSLRs have been launched over a 14 year period, I decided to see if we could get a sense of impact at launch versus overall. This was actually a key part of my tiebreaker in developing the brackets. The results, however, were very, very interesting. Let's take a look at what you thought were the best cameras at their launch:

  1. D3 (29.5%)
  2. D800 (17.5%)
  3. D700 (9.9%)
  4. D300 (6%)
  5. D3s (5.7%)
  6. Tie: D1 and D70 (5.5%)

This particular question allows us to establish some ranking amongst various types of cameras at generational launches. For example, the pro generation was ranked: D3, D1, D4, D2. The prosumer camera order is D800, D700, D300, tie between D100 and D200, then D600. Heck, even the Kodak SLR/n outscored the D600 here. The top consumer DX DSLR order was: D70, D7000, D90, then a huge drop-off (order of magnitude) to the D7100 followed closely by the D80.

In these results we're already starting to see a pattern emerge. Some earlier cameras Nikon launched definitely resonated with users. Some recent launches, not so much. We'll see in a minute whether that impacted overall assessment of the cameras, as well.

But before we get there we need to look at the other end of the results. Just as we have winners, we have losers. Because I expected the "noise" to be a problem at the bottom end of the survey, I inverted the question and asked which was the worst camera at launch. This gave clear definition to a lot of cameras that had scored in the 0% to 1% realm on the first question. From worst to not-quite-worst:

  1. D3000 (15.6%)
  2. D40x (9.6%)
  3. D60 (9.1%)
  4. D80 (8.6%)
  5. D40 (7.7%)

That the no-focus-motor DSLRs were at the bottom of the pile was expected, but the D2h isn't there (4.2%) and the D80 is. That's interesting, and just one of the reasons why the D80 didn't make the playoffs. So are a few other things: the D3000, D3100, and D3200 progression showed improving "worst" numbers (15.6%, 6.4%, and 2.2%, respectively). But the D5000 to D5200 showed the opposite (1.7%, 2.4%, 3.7%), as did the D7000 to D7100 one (0.3% ballooning to 3.6%).

Those last two bits show us that Nikon's product launches lately in the mid-line aren't being well responded to by the survey takers. That's a marketing failure, not a product failure. This is an important point to make. Because most of you don't have experience with all the cameras I asked about, what my poll really revealed is perception. In product marketing you can ask all the "rate this feature" questions you want of users, but one of the toughest things to get real data on is overall perception. By not telling you what I was up to and not giving you any guidance, what I was trying to figure out is how you perceived all these Nikon DSLRs, both in terms of their launch importance as well as their overall ability. Frankly, there's some clear perception problems showing in this data, and Nikon isn't addressing them.

Now for the results you've been waiting for: what's the best Nikon camera ever made? (Remember, that's perceived best, not necessarily actual best.) This list might surprise you a bit:

  1. D800 (28.7%)
  2. D3s (20.3%)
  3. D4 (15.9%)
  4. D700 (12.4%)
  5. D300 (5.1%)
  6. D3 (4.7%)

That the D300 is up there so high tells you all you need to know: Nikon would be incredibly brain dead not to update that camera, and if they did it right (ala the D800 from D700 update), it could be a significant player in Nikon's reputation. Also note that the D4 didn't topple the D3s.

Where are the other current cameras? That went like this: D3200 (0.1%), D5200 (0%), D7100 (1%), D600 (1.7%), D3x (3.3%). Ouch. You may be paying less, but you certainly don't value those cameras quite the same (D3x is an exception in both respects). See what I mean about perception? The D600/D800 disparity is a real eye opener, and that the D300 is above the D600 so significantly should worry Nikon (and worry them more if they don't actually produce a D300 follow up).

Again I asked the opposite question to try to resolve the noise at the other end of the survey. What's the worst F-mount DSLR made? Get ready for another list that might surprise you. From worst to not-quite-worst:

  1. D3000 (15.9%)
  2. D80 (11.5%)
  3. D40 (10.6%)
  4. Kodak SLR/n (7.6%)
  5. D1 (6.9%)
  6. D60 (5.8%)
  7. D2h (5.6%)
  8. D90 (5%)
  9. D100 (4.3%)
  10. D40x (4.1%)

To put that in perspective, except for the D800, the others at the top of the "best" list were at 0% to 0.2% in this question. The D800 was at 1.5%, though, and I suspect that's the focus issue raising its ugly head. For every 20 people who think the D800 is the greatest, one will think it is terrible. That's what poor quality control can do to undermine your reputation.

Again, how did the current cameras fare at the "worst" question? That went like this: D4 (0.3%), D3x (0%), D800 (1.5%), D600 (2.2%), D300 (0.2%), D7100 (0.1%), D5200 (0.3%), D3200 (0.3%). Hmm. Which two Nikon cameras have had a lot of recent Internet discussion about problems? Yep, the D600 and D800, the two outliers. It shows in the survey. Remember, people are peeved enough about these cameras to rank them worse than any other Nikon camera made. Perception is a cold-hearted dude.

So what are the final brackets? Here are the seeds as I calculated them out to be:

#1 D800 versus #16 D3200
#2 D3 versus #15 D90
#3 D3s versus #14 Fujifilm S3 Pro
#4 D700 versus #13 D600
#5 D4 versus #12 Fujifilm S2 Pro
#6 D300 versus #11 D200
#7 D7000 versus #10 D2x
#8 D3x versus #9 D70

Yeah, there are some tough games in the tournament already with the D600 and D700 going head to head, as are the D200 and D300. Given the way the seeds turned out, there may be some upsets heading into the second round.

To vote for the players still in the tournament, click here to get to the short survey. Remember, your shots (uh, votes) count. The remaining teams need your support. As the games complete, I'll do my best Bobby Knight impression and kick camera bags across the office, uh, I mean give cogent commentary to the matches.

Yes, this is just a fun little game to pass the time. But as you might already be able to see, it gives us a different way of looking at Nikon's body of work (supplemented by Fujifilm and Kodak) and a chance to make some interesting commentary you won't find anywhere else. Don't dismiss this as trivial and not worth your time. Go back up there and click on that survey link and really think about the eight simple questions I ask. Trust me, there will be surprises as we move forward. Useful-to-think-about surprises. The first surprise everyone should be scratching their head over is how the heck did the D7100 not play their way into the Sweet Sixteen? (Hint: perception is driven partly by how you announce something and how well your last announced products performed.) Just filling out the survey will tell you something about how you value different things in Nikon's lineup. Keep those thoughts coming. | Nikon | Gadgets | Writing | imho | Travel | Privacy statement | contact Thom at

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