Nikon’s D700 D-SLR; The Full-Frame March Continues Page 2

The D700 has two so-called “Live View” modes, though what I see through the viewfinder seems just as live, and eminently more viewable in daylight, to me. I have to confess that I am still perplexed about the need for this in any D-SLR, though the D700’s bright and crisp 3” monitor makes it a pleasant enough experience. You can work with the Handheld or Tripod mode, each having their foibles and tricks. If you are a fan you can engage Live View via the Function button if you program it thusly, which makes going in and out of the mode handy. I guess anything’s better than those EVF finders from years back.

One of the chief advantages of a full-frame sensor is quality in low light; the theory goes that the larger pixel sites have more light-gathering efficiency, with concomitant lowering of noise at all speed levels in all sorts of lighting conditions. This means that images at ISO 400-1600, which approached the danger zone in the past, are now comparatively less noisy, while the hubris of ISO 25,600 is settable. I can’t imagine what you might need that for, but if you have any images shot at above ISO 8000 I’d love to see them in our High ISO gallery on our website. This is a big step, I think, and it feels very much like the day when ISO 400 color film started looking like the old ISO 100.

Now that photographers have gone over the deep end for HDR the D700 will please even the most avid fan, with a nine-step bracketing sequence capability. For most folks 1 EV steps will do it, but for full nuanced control you can make these in 1⁄3 EV steps. The nice thing is that you don’t have to halt everything to set it up—do it once, then make the Function button the key to unlock the procedure.

Nikon’s near-obsession with color control continues in the D700, with eight artificial light categories, including five for specific fluorescent lights. The research for the photographer is in discovering the type of light in the fixture, not the temperature it emits, as the differences between Day White and Cool White FL escape me. You can nudge color temperature and color as desired on the blue/yellow, magenta/green axis. Custom white balance is easily done via the snap and measure method, but you can also “lift” the color temperature setting from an image already on your card, whether from the same day’s shoot or from a past shoot you’ve stored and labeled and inserted when needed.

There are numerous Picture Control settings that, while fun, are perhaps left to later image processing. The range of options is repeatable via Nikon’s (still) optional Capture NX 2 or your picture editor of choice. The Picture Control Grid shows off the contrast and saturation of your selection in relation to other possible settings and does help put matters into context. You can, if desired, modify the presets and name them in a “Manage Picture Control” memory bank. You can also build your own “emulsions” if you will in Capture NX 2 and the supplied View NX and then load them onto a memory card, which you then load into the camera. (I’ll send a free copy of our current Expert Photo Techniques issue to the first reader who can tell me the camera model and brand name of cards that were used to preset Program Exposure modes on a 35mm camera. Hint: Minolta made them. Just e-mail me at: editorial@shutterbug.com.)

There is a built-in flash, which has become less of a mark of a strictly amateur camera when you consider that it can play a role in wireless flash setups. The built-in has a GN of 56, keeping in mind that this is an ISO 200 not 100 standard.

Noise reduction is still an important part of image quality generated by this camera, and the EXPEED processor does its part in making the most of the larger pixel sizes. In the D700 high ISO NR (Noise Reduction) is performed on all images taken at above ISO 2000. This is a statement about the sensor as many current D-SLRs make the trigger point for high ISO NR at ISO 400. The microprocessor offers high, moderate, or low settings, which I think should be used for increasingly lower-light situations and after judging how much smoothing the image can tolerate—in other words, a pretty big judgment call. You can turn off high ISO NR so noise reduction will only be performed at speeds of HI 0.3 and above, in the stratospheric ISO 8000 range and above.

While I am sure that the SB-900 Speedlight is a very versatile studio and interior flash, especially when used as a second flash or off-camera flash with the built-in flash on the D700 as control, I used it mostly outdoors to work foreground/background-light/dark relationships. I used the flash at -1 EV and the ambient exposure at -2 EV for many of these exposures. I also used the rotating head to light the foreground corners when using the wide angle (24mm) setting.

Camera Customization
Part of the attraction of a camera in this class is the degree to which you can customize it to the way you work. The Function button leads the way in this as you can set it up to evoke any of a number of operations, such as exposure bracketing, Live View operation, choice of non-CPU lens number, etc. You can also: set up exposure compensation on a Command dial as opposed to always having to press the +/- button and hold; save power through meter on and replay image on display timing; call up a grid in the finder; and make the built-in flash perform like a Commander to other wireless flash units. On the last item you can also eliminate the built-in burst via an optional SG-3IR infrared panel. And, one of the most amusing of things you can do is evoke a “virtual horizon” which yields a kind of compass/bubble level in the monitor which reacts to tripod adjustments, great for panoramic shots. And so as to not leave one button unmultifunctioned, you can also make the Depth Of Field (DOF) preview button do numerous tricks as well when it’s not performing its DOF preview functions.

One thing an advanced camera like the D700 offers is the ability to work AF and AE Lock separately, something many lesser mortals do not allow or have you go through numerous gymnastics to accomplish. By assigning the AE-L/AF-L button on the back of the camera to “Auto Exposure Lock and Hold” you can meter the part of the scene most important to your exposure, then press the AE-L button once to “lock and hold” the exposure, then recompose, then autofocus as normal and shoot. You can also use other methods of AF Lock if you need to, including using the AF-On button for AF activation. You can then let go of the button once AF is achieved and by default it locks in place. With both AF and AE locked this way, you are free to shoot without having to reset either. Or you can assign either the FUNC button or DOF preview button for this operation.

Say there’s a fairly strong backlight I want to bring close to middle gray, and want to autofocus on a fairly dark object in the near foreground. Being able to separate the functions I can lock exposure on the hot background area, then recompose and focus on the foreground subject. With the D700 this is easily solved by the ability to disengage the two functions.

As I was writing this report Adobe released Camera Raw 4.5, which handles the NEF files from the D700. Playing with NEF files, either in Camera Raw or with Nikon’s optional Capture NX 2, gave me the feeling that I was dealing with a very rich and information-filled image file. This image was manipulated in Camera Raw 4.5 to enhance contrast and color.

Conclusion
The D700 raises some interesting questions about the future of the D-SLR class. Just how many megapxiels do you need to achieve very good image quality at a large print size? And does 12.1 (effective) megapixels in a full-frame sensor stand up against similar or even larger resolution in smaller sensors, and does the larger sensor justify the price?

I guess the answer depends on what you have in mind for the camera. For those with modest aspirations and budget there’s no doubt that the 10-12-megapixel APS-C sensor cameras do the trick. Indeed, they deliver excellent image quality that far exceeds D-SLRs of the past. So, when might the D700 come into play? I believe it is for those who regularly work in low or marginal light and want to get the best quality available to date; who do not want any hint of noise in a clear blue sky; who enjoy or might need to shoot in previously astronomical ISOs (such as surveillance work); who might need an 8 frames-per-second framing rate; who want maximum functionality out of their “old” Nikon glass; who want a super wide to behave like a super wide and have a tele not go through the focal length roof; and who want image quality that rivals medium format film. I guess that about sums it up.

Using Legacy Glass
One of the real attractions for Nikon fans and those who still retain their old glass (or who snagged up bargains from those jumping film’s ship) is the ability to use legacy glass with the D700 to an extent that may surprise you. The route is using the “non-CPU data menu,” where you first assign the lens in question a number, then input the focal length and maximum aperture. The one flaw, if you will, is that with zooms you have to assign an identity with each focal length you might use, which for me eliminates their consideration and makes this chiefly a fixed focal length lens convenience. If you use a tele-converter the max aperture setting becomes the “combined” aperture, or simply adding the stop loss to the prime’s max aperture. What does this get you?

• Auto power zoom with modern Speedlights
• Aperture value displayed in the finder
• Aperture on your EXIF data (OK, no big deal, but there it is)
• Color Matrix metering (though center-weighted averaging might be the only pattern you can use with some lenses)
• Manual and Aperture-Priority Exposure modes
• And, according to Nikon, general overall improvement in metering accuracy

The fun comes when you actually change aperture by click stops on the lens.

For more information, contact Nikon Inc., 1300 Walt Whitman Rd., Melville, NY 11747; (800) 526-4566; www.nikonusa.com.

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