Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nikon D700 + 50mm F1.4G challenge

First of all, many thanks and kudos to
Nikon Estonia for providing the D700 for testing purposes.

I've been with digital cameras since 2004, with DSLR since 2005, but so far strictly with amateur cameras only, so I think it is time to move on to (semi-) pro body, and Nikon D700 is definitely something you'd like to consider being in a situation like that.

As with me, decision to go with pro body is directly related with the chance to try D700 - I was actually considering to try D90 first, but as this model was unavailable for testing, I got the D700.. and I'm more or less sure most of us would like D700 over the D90 for several reasons, starting with the blow away sensor and excellent build quality.

So I took a couple of days off for some serious D700 shooting at different locations and conditions and I'd like to share a couple of thoughts (and pictures) with you. It is just my personal opinion and thoughts about using the camera, if you are looking for charts, comparisons and several test shots, you should consider visiting dpreview.com or similar site.

I came from Nikon D80, so the fist impression was the camera is really big and heavy. Well, there's still room to Canon 1D or Nikon D3 and this actually fine by me as I do not have the largest hands on earth. Choosing between comfortable vertical shooting with 7+ fps together with heavier camera and 5fps with no battery grip at the other side I really prefer the second option, and here I'm in a party still hooraying for the D700 coming to the market after sooooo successful Canon 5D (a full frame (FX) camera with relatively small body).

The 50mm prime (best 50mm currently available form nikon, the silent internal focusing (AF-S) F1.4G) is with no doubt one of the best options to test the camera with non-zooming lens giving work to your legs and creativity and razor sharp glass taking care of the image quality covering the whole FX sensor area from center to corner.

Another nice combination here is the F1.4 at high ISO values giving you the most flexible combination currently on the market - almost usable to take pictures at any light (dark) condition till your eye can differentiate the subjects you shoot. This means you can shoot at very poor light conditions with not being forced to use flash. The combination of using ISO 12,800 + F1.4 as an aperture is in fact so good, that even in dim light you see the shutter speeds going 1/100 or faster. So the superb sensor is definitely one of  the major USPs (unique selling points) for the D700, and considering its build quality and almost endless possibilities to set up the camera in the way you like, it is hard to say no to the package as sweet as that.

There are currently only a couple of FX cameras on the market able to compete against the ISO performance of the D700 - it's big brother D3, Canon 5D Mk2 and Canon 1Ds Mk3 (Sony A900 is full frame (FX) as well, but the sensor is not quite up to the level of D700 / 5DMk2).


Now about the things I'd like to be improved a bit with regarding to using and customizing the using of the camera.

There's one major issue I'd like to point out with D700 and this is probably the most annoying thing I found about this camera. It's about how I'd like the exposure compensation button to work and about that I was not able to achieve the desired result. While I'm about ninety percent sure I went through every menu corner to find a solution, I wouldn't burn the bridge to learn how to really do it. Also, the solution could be fixed with simple firmware update. Now, down to the problem.

By default, in P mode, the exposure compensation is made using the first control dial (located just below the shutter release button) and if you turn it left, it overcompensates and if you turn it to right direction, it undercompensates the exposure. At the same time, the front control dial just offers you different combination of exposure and aperture values if you are not happy with the default ones offered by camera (the P comes to P* when you do it).

First of all, I'd like the dials to be switched for the following reason. If I have my finger on the shutter release button and I have a quick moving object I'd like to capture quickly with compensating the default exposure, I will not be able to do that because I need to move the finger away from the shutter release button, compensate the exposure accordingly, move the finger back, half press for the focus and exposure and then full press to get the picture.

While I understand the P mode is not the mode the camera might be aimed to shoot in, I still think a way like this is way too slow. Fortunately, Nikon has included the "switch the control dials" at the menu, so the solution is there - I can half press the shutter release button and compensate the exposure comfortably. Now the other half of the issue - I'd like the default direction to be changed. Again, this can be done, without switching the roles of the dials first - you can easily use the front wheel to compensate from left to right (from - to +) as opposed to right to left (from - to +) which is how Nikon engineers seem to think.

What I could NOT change, was both to switch the roles and have the directions right. You can do one or the other thing, but not both. This is what I'd like to be able to do, and before I go with D700 (or D300, basically the same body and functions/logic), I'll consult about it with some pro Nikon user.

And, another issue with the direction of how any of the control button works, is the way it handles aperture in A mode. It is logical that you move from left to right having left side as smallest aperture (16 with 1.4G) and to the right direction as the widest possible aperture (F1.4 with 50mm F1.4G). But it works vice versa. So if you think you made some success with switching the direction, it is not true about everything.

The bottom line with this issue - it is nice to be able to configure the control dials - but there's lots of room for this area of the customization. Every dial should be customizable for its function and direction in any more, including independently being able to fix the aperture direction and exposure compensation direction.

I was not able to test the dials in S mode, but the direction should be customizable here as well - while I find the directions mentioned above very logic, many of you may find this not logical direction at all - this is why it ALL has to be VERY customizable.

One more minor notice about giving custom functions to buttons. The AE lock can not be addressed a custom function. It would be nice to be able to do it, as it is the closest button to thumb, and the default function (basically AF in MF mode) is not what I'd like to use too often.


As with the choice which semi-pro DSLR to choose, it is not that easy to decide about it here, in Estonia. Nikon Estonia was the only company providing the camera for testing and how can I buy one without previously testing one? Overall (official reseller of Canon) kindly allows to try the camera at their office OR to rent the pro body for several days with refunding you both the rental money and guaranty money. It is basically the same with Pentax (though pentax does not currently produce any (semi-)pro body). I'm still waiting for the reply from Olympus (contacted them more than a week ago already). So it seems most of the resellers are eager to sell what they have, but they're not doing it in the most flexible way they could.

So again, thanks for Nikon Estonia, I think being able to try the pro body for some days is a serious plus to consider buying their camera :-)