D700: first impressions, (vs. D3).

D700 + MB-D10 in warm light.
So it has been several days now; I have had the chance to do a decent shake down of the D700. The very first thing I noticed (in comparison to the D3) is that the grip on the body is a little cramped. My thumb feels “squeezed” in between the multi selector and “thumb ridge” next to the CF door. Also the right side of the D700 body is flatter, in section, compared to the rounder D3. The D700 does not “fill my hand” as nicely as the D3. The addition of the MB-D10 does not help with this particular, “empty hand”, feeling. BUT it does make the finger purchase and palm support much more solid.

When shooting in portrait orientation, the MB-D10 actually feels better than the D3. (The D3’s CF release button’s protective flap forms an unusual bump under thumb.) I really like the mini multi selector that was added to the MB-D10 –it works very well! With the older MB-D200, I would miss a lot of shots when I had to stretch my right thumb and move my face to reach the multi selector on the S5 Pro. It is minor but very important for “run & gun”.

Speaking of run & gun: with the EN-EL4(a) loaded, the D700 is plenty “machine gun” for me. With my shooting style, the difference between 8 fps and 9 fps is invisible. Yeah… technically the D3 “goes to 11” but 11 fps without auto focus is practically useless for dynamic action sequences. Its nice for analyzing your golf swing or batting technique. But c’mon, that is what video is for. (Ever heard of the Casio EX-F1?)

The new sliding CF door is not terrible. I could see it being a problem only in the most squirrelly of situations (one handed, off balance, extreme angle shooting). Regarding the single card slot: the D3 is the only DSLR I have ever owned with more than one memory card slot. So to have “just” one in the D700 is not a problem. Sure, double card slots are nice but I can do my job just as well with a single. 8)

The 95% viewfinder is nothing to worry about. Yes, it would be nice to have exact edge to edge framing in the viewfinder. But again, I can still do my job very well without it. (Live View is 100%!) On the other hand, one viewfinder item that I do find quite annoying on the D700 is the exposure / leveling scale. Since it is squeezed in with the rest of the viewfinder digital read out, on the bottom edge vs. the right side, it is smaller and harder to read.

So far these observations sound rather nit-picky, don’t they? Yes, they are! The fact is those nits are all there is to compare… In every area that counts: performance, build, & image quality –the D700 (+ MB-D10) is practically identical to the D3! My quick and dirty side-by-side images show a tiny tiny amount of softness in the D700 images. Could it be the dust shaker? Maybe. But more likely it is just a matter of focus calibration. I’d have to sit down and do an exhaustive studio comparison to verify –sure, when D700’s rain down from the sky! ;) Who cares, really?

In my hands the only practical difference between the D3 and D700 is form factor. (Yes, of course $1,500 is a very practical difference also but my perspective is that of a career professional –equipment is ultimately a write-off.) The D700’s ability to “transform” is a huge advantage over the D3! (Though I am very glad to have one of each.) If one sat down and got neurotic, one could argue the nits –one way or the other– till discontinuation, but why bother? Bottom line: if you are a full time 9 fps shooter: D3 wins. If you are anything else: D700 wins. Both are exquisite tools!