Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nikon D700 joins the Pentax stable

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Well, after thinking long and hard about moving to a full frame camera, doing all the usual research, reading reviews and trying the likely contenders in my local camera store, I took the plunge and bought a Nikon D700. In the end, it was a choice between the Nikon and Canon's ageing but still excellent 5D. Newer full frame models such as the Sony A900 and the replacement for the 5D were considered but rejected for various reasons.

The 5D with a couple of Canon's excellent "L" zooms was an enticing package but the D700's high ISO performance was one of the main attractions for me and, good though the 5D is, it's not in the Nikon's league. The same goes for the Sony A900 which seems capable of great image quality under normal lighting conditions but falls short at high ISOs.

Both the Sony and the new 5D MkII are also more expensive than the D700. That's the only thing that counted against the new Canon as I believe its high ISO performance will be similar to the D700's. Both the Canon and Sony have much higher pixel counts but I think that's a case of overkill. They're fine if you want to make massive prints and can be bothered upgrading your computer to handle the huge file sizes but there's no advantage that I can see in A3 prints or for submission to microstock libraries where most of my sales have been at smaller file sizes.

Perceived wisdom is that you really need "great glass" to make the most of the full frame sensor but that view was called into question by Ken Rockwell on his website. According to Ken, whose forthright, shoot from the hip views tend to polarise opinion, his poorest lens used with a Canon 5D produces better results than his best lens on the DX format. This was of some comfort to me (a dangerous emotional crutch when trying to justify the expenditure of a large sum of money) as my budget didn't extend to expensive Nikon zooms. Of course, I read the counter-arguments to this as well but they were remarkably easy to dismiss, especially since they got in the way of my intended purchase...

In the end, I opted for 35mm f2 and 85mm f1.8 Nikkor primes to go along with the 28-105 and 70-210 Nikkor zooms I picked up quite cheaply off Ebay a while back. I already have 24mm and 105mm non-AI Nikkors which I'm going to get converted so I can use them with the D700. I also have a cracking 35mm f1.9 Vivitar lens of very high quality which I'll get done at the same time as its bokeh is particularly nice. The 24mm, 35mm f2 and 85mm Nikkor lenses will give me a nice, high quality travel outfit and they also help to keep the weight down which is quite important with a camera that weighs as much as the D700. The two zooms and the D700 are also a good solution where I wont be shooting in low light.

So what are results from the D700 like? It's early days but I haven't been disappointed. I don't have the 35mm f2 yet as it was out of stock when I picked up the outfit but the 85mm is very sharp indeed. The zooms aren't in the same class but they are still good lenses and more than capable of delivering what I need for big prints or for files that will be submitted to microstock libraries. The camera itself - and I don't mean this as a put-down to the K10D, as I'll explain in a while - is in a different league to the Pentax. It is so much more responsive both in its shutter release and in focusing speed. Focusing with the 85mm is almost instantaneous and always bang on. There are two versions of the 70-210 - the later of which is supposed to focus more quickly than the one I have - but my zoom is fast enough for me and only marginally slower than the 85mm. The 28-105 is no slouch either.

When I said earlier that the D700 and the K10D weren't in the same league, that has to be seen in the context of the respective prices of the two cameras. There is no way that the D700 is four times the camera the K10D is but it is a significant step up nonetheless. There's no doubt that the results I've been getting from the Nikon are sharper when viewed at large magnifications on my computer screen than anything I've had from the Pentax. Whether that difference will be noticeable in prints is something I've yet to establish. I'm hoping to do some testing of the K10D with the 21, 40 and 70 DA primes against the D700 and the 28-105 to see if my initial impressions hold up.

Low light work with the D700, as I knew it would be, is amazing. The pic at the top of the post is nothing special but is a wee illustration of the doors the D700 opens up. I was driving through Forfar, pulled in at the side of the road and just leaned out the window and snapped the scene without giving it much thought. With auto-ISO set at a maximum of 6,400 ISO, I can shoot hand-held just about anywhere there is some light. It's very liberating when you start taking photographs about an hour before dusk and you're still shooting away hand held after the sun has set. Sharpness at 6,400 ISO is still strong and the colours are lovely. I reckon that 6,400 ISO files will be acceptable to most microstock libraries if I run them through Noise Ninja. The D700's viewfinder is bigger and a little brighter than the K10D's but it's still nowhere near as good as the best 35mm film camera viewfinders. It's better than the viewfinder of my Nikkormat FT2, for instance, but not as good as that of the Konica FS-1 - and that means it's way behind the MX viewfinder. The Sony seems to be the market leader in that respect.

As usual, I've been pushed to find much time to go out shooting with the D700 but I'm gradually getting used to its handling - a little different to the K10D's but just as good. And with a bit of luck and some sound financial planning (whatever that means) the purchase of the D700 shouldn't mean that I'll have to abandon Pentax entirely. I'm hoping to hang onto the K10D and the three DA Limited lenses I have. For portability, that outfit has the Nikon soundly beaten.


  1. Oh no, not another convert to the dark side!

    Your blog was one of the resources which assisted me in choosing my DSLR (upgrading from a Fuji bridge camera very soon) - I am going with the K20D + 16-45mm.

    Hope you are happy with your D700 - at least until the opportunity to stick those beautiful limited lenses on a full frame Pentax mount DSLR comes along......! ;)

    You're gonna have to change your blog name to something catchy like Nixax or Penton Photography. :(

  2. Congratulations! I hope it serves you well. The closest I can come to your new combo is my Nikon FM3A, 35mm f/2.0 AF, and 85mm f/1.8 AI. I'd buy a D700 in a heartbeat if I had the cash--and a wife who wouldn't divorce me if she found out. Oh well, one can always dream...


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