Monday, February 23, 2015

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Buying a Nikon D5300 in Taipei's Camera Street

2/23/2015 Taiwan Explorer

I suppose every photographer remembers how they bought their first professional camera. I've bought mine just a few days ago on Taipei's famous Camera Street 相機街, and since some of my current and future readers might be interested in how someone who has little knowledge about professional photography buys his first DSLR camera in Taipei (or Taiwan in general), I want to share my experience. I have to add that I have been using my wife's Pentax K-x (2009) for the past few years, so I'm not a complete newbie to DSLR cameras. Most of my past Taiwan travel photos have been taken with that camera, but I've never really went beyond snapshots (and a few lucky shots). I do like landscape photography, and I think I managed to take some nice photos with that camera from time to time, but now I want to go one step further: From consumer to prosumer.

How I begun the search for my camera?

I first asked my family and friends for opinion, and also my followers on Facebook, and I got a lot of very useful suggestions and tips. Here's what I asked:

NEED HELP: I'm planning to buy a DSLR camera+lens, my budget is around 40,000 NTD (1300 USD). I know I have a lot of followers who are photographers, so can anyone give me any suggestions and tips what would be the best bang for the buck in this case?
Here's what I'd like to have from a camera in this range:

- good quality of landscape pics
- good quality of pics in low light, and at night
- good zoom quality, that enables detailed snaps from afar
- fast and good image processing software
- wi-fi capability with iOS app

When it comes to DSLRs my knowledge is really limited, I'm not a camera geek, so try to explain it to me with layman's terms. I'm also not brand aware or brand loyal, I'm open to anything right now.

Here are some of the most useful tips from the aforementioned Facebook thread:

- The lens you use is more important than how many megapixels the camera you have. I say go Canon as you can use both Canon and Nikon lenses with it (using an adapter) Vice verse not possible.

- I suggest you consider a mirrorless camera instead of a DSLR. They are lighter and smaller but still provide great image quality. Olympus OM-D E-M5 or E-M10 or Panasonic GX7 would be good choices for your budget.

- Nikon D5300. Unbeatable entry level cam. New model also.

- Canon 60D is a goid choice.

- A lot of people recommend the Canon 60D and Nikon D5400 or D5300. About the lens, if you interested in landscapes only I recommend a lens like 17-40mm or 16-35mm.

- I started with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 and I am very happy with this camera. The most important part is to get a good quality lens. I don't recommend to buy the kit lens.

- At $1300 US you don't have much choice for both camera and lens. I'd go for an entry level camera and a more expensive lens as cameras are all good these days.

- I would also recommend taking a look at the mirrorless options. Part of that analysis should be thinking hard about what type of photography you will be doing. If you find that you will mostly be taking pics while you are out and about with family, then a lighter and more compact mirrorless option might be good. This is especially true if you will be traveling with the camera. If you think you might be taking pics out in nature and need something a bit more rugged and weather sealed, then a DSLR might work better. I recently traded in a Nikon D300s and a few lenses for a Fuji X-E2.

Interesting responses, that gave me a lot of food for thought. I started to research the models that were most frequently mentioned, and kind of narrowed down my favorites: Canon 60D, Nikon D5300, and Olympus OM-D E-M10. But upon researching mirrorless camera technology, I realized that they may not be suitable for me right now due to following constraints: Shorter battery life, and a smaller lens selection than DSLRs. So at the end I was aiming to get one of the mid-range Canon or Nikon cameras, and decided to head to the Camera Street in Taipei to get my hands on them and test them (something my wife recommended me to do).

Visiting Taipei's Camera Street

The northern part of Zhongzheng District has a lot of streets dedicated to certain products, such as shoes, books, audio equipment, 3C products, and cameras. Hankou Street, together with the neighboring Bo'ai Street (that ends at the historic North Gate or Beimen), are generally considered "Taipei's Camera Street" (you can find them on the map here). This is where I was headed with my wife, and to a particular shop that she and her friends recommended in Bo'ai Street called Yongsheng Photo Equipment 永勝照相器材. They claim to be the oldest shop in the area, opened since 1969 (check out their Facebook page, and locate them on the map). Fortunately they were opened during lunar new year unlike many other shops, and the owner had time to spend with me and my wife, and let us test several cameras and lenses.

Yongsheng Photo Equipment shop, opened since 1969.

The great Nikon D5300 bargain

Some interesting offers for Nikon cameras caught my attention.

Before I went to the Camera Street, I was sure that I will be paying around 1300 USD for my new camera, because that's the budget I set aside for my newest gadget, but after testing several cameras and lenses, and after a long talk with the owner, I realized that the best option for my needs would be the Nikon D5300, which is small and compact compared to some of the other cameras I tested (like the Nikon D7100). So while I saved with the body, I decided to pay a bit more and go for the better kit lens, the Nikkor 18-140mm (the cheapest bundle was with the Nikkor 18-55-mm). In total I paid 24,600 NTD in cash (which equals to around 775 USD or 680 EUR right now) due to some special lunar new year promotion, and I think it was really a great bargain considering the fact that only the N5300 body costs around 700 USD on Amazon US, and the same bundle as I bought around 1000 USD. The price drop is probably due to the recently launched Nikon D5500, the follow up version of the D5300, which comes minor improvements to its predecessor (see a comparison between these two models). Sure, the new D5500 is lighter and has a touch screen, but for me it's not worth to pay 200 USD more for just that. This kit is quite below my initial budget, but I'm very happy that I saved money and got an excellent product.

Testing the Nikkor 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6 with two different bodies. The reason why D7100 produced so much noise was the high ISO at 3200 (on the D5300 it was 400).

Great customer experience

What I liked about the shop is that they didn't try to sell me the more expensive camera, because frankly if they presented a convincing case, I might have paid 1300 USD on that day, and perhaps not gotten a that much better camera than the one I got. It was the owner that told me I better pay less, the D5300 should suffice my photography needs (I was at one point seriously considering to buy the more expensive D7100). In fact, my wife told me this shop is known for honesty and good customer service, and I was under the impression that their approach was genuine (for example, I got a 32 Gig SanDisk memory card thrown in for free, as well as the owner took out the camera of the box, put on the strap, and checked every detail to make sure the camera is in mint condition). If in the future I will be looking for another lens, I will definitely return to this shop - yes, I am loyal like that.

The inside of the shop.

I first thought to buy a bag, but then decided to do that some other time.

Bringing the Nikon D5300 home

Here are some of my images of the packaging, and the camera kit:

This is how the packaging looks like.

The Nikon D5300 out of the box.

A side view.

The LCD screen at the back.

A view from the top.

Sample shots of the Nikon D5300 around Taipei

The next day was really nice, so I decided to go to Xinyi and take some shots to test the camera and the lens. The photos looked amazingly sharp with crisp colors, I was more than satisfied with the results, despite not yet spending any time to discover how to optimize the settings for the best possible result. These images were all shot in auto mode, and the originals on Flickr are without any post processing.

The top of Taipei 101 (click on image for the full resolution version).

The top of the Huanan Bank WTC (click on image for the full resolution version).

More detail of the Huanan Bank WTC (click on image for the full resolution version).

A closeup of the Huanan Bank WTC (click on image for the full resolution version).

A new modern building opposite the W-Hotel. The weather turned for the worse, but the photo still looks great (click on image for the full resolution version).

Nikon D5300 in conclusion

Right now I'm very satisfied with the camera I bought, I'm learning about digital photography every day, and exploring this camera as much as possible, because I want to make better photos. I'm still a complete newbie to DSLRs and have a lot to learn, my only problem is that I usually have very limited time, so I'm not really sure how quickly and how far I will advance after lunar new year, when my job takes over my life again. I do hope that I can take some good shots in and around Taipei this spring. You'll see how far this new hobby will take me in the upcoming months. Until then, tay tuned, and if you want to learn more about the Nikon D5300, check these links that were very useful to me:

Tony Northrup - D5300 Overview Training Tutorial (YouTube, 39 mins)
Photography Blog - Nikon D5300 Review
Ken Rockwell - Nikon D5300
Nikon.com - D5300