Hello and welcome to Andy Rouse's thoughts on the Nikon D700! On 1st July 2008 I attended the launch of several new Nikon products at the Charlotte Street Hotel in London and I wanted give an insight into what these new products might mean for your photography. As with all new products there is a wealth of information and so I am using my extensive experience in the field, plus my relationship with the vendors, to analyse it all and tell you exactly what you need to know. The announcement covered four exciting new products:
- D700 DSLR - the D3's feature-packed little brother
- Speedlight SB900 flashgun
- PCE 45mm Nikkor lens (tilt and shift)
- PCE 85mm Nikkor lens (tilt and shift)
The D700 follows hard on the heels of the incredible success of the D3 and D300 DSLRs released last year. It is feature packed and is designed to appeal to both amateur and professional photographers.
At first glance the casual observer might wonder what the point of the camera is as it does not deliver any more megapixels than its fellow top end DSLRs, but megapixels aren't the only game in town. Its big brother, the D3, has revolutionised my photography and its high ISO performance and superior, trustworthy AF capabilities have allowed my hit rate of good images to increase significantly. Well the D700 delivers virtually the same specification as the D3 but in a smaller body and at a much-reduced price.
- FX Sensor - the D700 has the same FX full-frame sensor as the D3, giving the same incredible image quality and low light performance. This is a very important consideration to those photographers who do not need (or want!) the extra crop factor of the D300.
- ISO Performance - the D700 has an ISO range of 200 to 6400 with expansion possible to 100 and 25,600 using a menu option. Again this is the same as the D3 and above the standard specification of the D300. Whilst many of you many wonder about whether you would use this high ISO, trust me once you try it you will be hooked. I have used it in incredibly low light with tigers to record action that I would otherwise have missed. At the Nikon briefing they showed several images from pro photographers at Wimbledon who had shot the Andy Murray game the previous evening in almost darkness; at ISO 5000 they managed to get usable shots that appeared in the newspapers almost straight away.
- AF Performance - The D700 incorporates the same Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus sensor module (as opposed to the D300 3500DX system) featuring 51 selectable AF points and 15 cross-type sensors located in the centre enable subject detection with lens apertures as small as f/5.6. In Dynamic-area AF mode, you can select from 9, 21 or 51 AF areas and the 51-point option, like the D3, supports the 3D tracking mode based on colour. In short the D700 provides the same AF capability as the D3 and time will tell whether it improves on the D300 but in my initial testing of the D3 and D300 I did notice a difference in tracking ability.
- High Speed Performance - For sports, news and wildlife photographers having a high continuous frame rate is very important. The D700 has a maximum shooting speed of approximately 5 frames per second with the supplied EN-EL3e Li-ion battery, which increases to 8 frames per second when using the Multi-Power Battery Pack MB-D10 and EN-EL4a Li-ion battery or eight AA batteries. This is of course slightly slower than the D3 but comparable with the D300 when used with the MB-D10 battery pack as well.
- Improved body design - the D700 is significantly smaller in physical dimensions than the D3 and about 20% lighter. The weight difference is due to the magnesium alloy that is now used for the exterior cover, rear body and mirror box; note it also provides rugged durability and can take a few knocks. The weather sealing has been much improved since the D300 and perhaps it is now even better than the superb D3, with o-ring sealing on the vital connections. I think that perhaps this is one of the major advantages of the D700 over the D3, as size is an issue for all of us.
- Buffer speed - obviously important for everyone the D700 has a 23 shot buffer for lossless compression 12 bit NEFs and a 100 shot buffer for JPEG fine. This compares well with the D3 but is a long way ahead of the D300 which has as buffer size of 18 NEFs and 43 JPEG fine.
- Start-up time - The new model features a start-up time equivalent to the D3 at approximately 0.12 second, and a shutter release time lag of only 40ms.
- Automatic Sensor Cleaning - full frame DSLRs have always been a little more prone to dust and so the addition of the automated cleaning system is very welcome. This is the same system as on the D300, but note, this does not appear on the D3!
- Viewfinder coverage - the D700 viewfinder coverage is 95% whilst the D300 and D3 are 100%.
- CF Slots - the D700, in common with the D300, can take 1 CF card and supports high performance UDMA cards. The D3 has dual slots for 2 cards.
Clearly the D700 is a very highly specified camera and it can be considered as the D3's little brother. It offers most of the same features, in a lighter, more compact body and at a reduced price. Nikon are marketing this as a professional camera and certainly there will be pros that will find the D700 more attractive than the D3 due to weight and size considerations; another option is as a cheaper backup camera, which is something that I have been considering a D300 for. On the subject of the D300 the natural comparison will be between this and the D700 and it all really depends whether you want an FX or a DX sensor and what you want to pay. In terms of value for money the D300 is a very highly specified camera, but if you want the advantages that a full frame DSLR provides (and the build quality, buffer speed and other advantages) then the D700 will be the one for you. With this release Nikon have plugged a hole in their range and it shows their commitment to delivering solutions that their photographers want. The camera is expected in late July and I will try to take one with me on a trip to put it through its paces. So far though it looks a good priced and well thought out DSLR that will appeal to a cross section of photographers.
Speedlight SB-900 Flashgun
Nikon have always led the way with their flash units and the SB-900 sees them extend the boundaries even further. Apart from improved performance and recycling times, the SB-900 has three innovative new features that will set it apart:
- Extended Zoom range - the zoom range on most flash units is from around 17mm to 105mm but the SB-900 extends this to a whopping 200mm! This extends the effective range of the flash, and in low light conditions this will offer an incredible advantage to the discerning photographer.
- Automatic white balance - photographers often use coloured gels on the front of a flash unit to creatively control light. Unfortunately these effects can be negated by an incorrect white balance setting in the DSLR, and the results don't look flattering. The SB-900 detects the addition of a gel to the flash unit and ensures that the attached DSLR has the correct white balance. Dead smart.
- Firmware update - the SB-900 is the first Speedlight whose firmware can be updated, allowing Nikon to tune its performance without the need to bring out a new unit.
The SB-900 is slightly larger than its predecessors, a necessity to cater for the increased zoom range. It certainly represents a major step forward in using flash creatively and I will be getting mine as soon as it is available from wex photographic.
Tilt and Shift Lenses
The development of these lenses was announced earlier this year and now they are finally available. Nikon call these PCE lenses and they are basically designed to shift the plane of focus and allow you to utilise some very creative effects; the most common is to get everything in focus from a stone at your feet to a mountain on the horizon. With the latest Nikkor lens technology these lenses are a great addition to the range, if this kind of photography is your bag.
Stop Press - D3 Firmware Update
An important new firmware update has just been released for the D3 which fixes many issues including the battery drain that I have been occasionally experiencing. Please download and install this firmware update from www.nikon.co.uk and follow the links to Customer Services then Firmware Updates from the left hand panel. An update is also available for the D300 from the same page.
I hope that you found my insights into these products useful and enjoyed seeing my tiger pictures in my July newsletter. I will now be writing a regular newsletter for wex photographic customers so look out for the next thrilling installment which will show some of my latest Arctic work plus chat a little about filters and how they can be used with a DSLR. Happy shooting!
Sample images from the Nikon D700
(Please note that these all images used in this article are the property of Nikon and/or the photographer that shot them.)
This review is the copyright of Andy Rouse Wildlife Photography Ltd and Wex Photographic. No part of this review may be emailed, quoted or in any other way reproduced without the written permission of Andy Rouse. All opinions expressed are those of Andy Rouse and no third party has been consulted.