D3 / D700 pros and cons

Hamish Gill

Tech Support (and Marketing)
Larry is very right it has to be said ... The d300 and d3 were real landmark cameras in my view ... The d700 being an almost best of both world version of the 2 of them... Hense me selling my d300 in a bid to get some cash for a d700 ... I can see my self using it more than the d3, the d3 only really offering extreme life span 100% veiw finder and speed over the d700
The D3 was the sports/nature photographer's dream camera. It could balance the front-heavy super-telephotos and get off a whole lot of frames in a very small slice of time. The D700 is the photojournalist's dream camera. Smaller and thus more mobile, and somewhat less obvious. It is like Mr. Nikon-san looked into my soul and created a camera to fit the space there that had been waiting for it all these years.
The main reason that there is no flash on the D2/D3 is that it would have compromised the 100% view in the viewfinder and also made the camera body less robust. Personally I prefer the heft of the D3 over the D700 (I have both) even with a battery pack fitted to the D700 and like the stability that the extra mass brings. However, it is fairly heavy and I can understand why the D700 is preferred by some (eg wedding photographers, especially those that shoot in a photojournalistic style - although interestingly many photojournalists in the UK seem to opt for the D3 or the Canon counterpart). I must say though that neither camera, especially when fitted with a lens such as the 24 - 70 f2.8 is hardly discrete. For me, that's more the role of a rangefinder and you can shoot with one of these almost unnoticed (but not from a great distance). You could always order a Leica M9! Given the the waiting time is about 6 months, you might even be able to afford it when it becomes available!! ;)
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Pete makes excellent points. Consider that sports photographers are the number one target customer and wildlife shooters a close number two. At working distances, for either, flash is of little relevance. While I don't mind having the option on my D700, I don't actually recall ever using it - even for fill - except testing that it actually does work. I spent a lifetime as a beast of burden, hauling a case of flash units and stands to please editors and clients when ISO400 was considered "high speed". I will die content to never having used a flash ever again.

I get medium-format quality at moderate ISO settings and even at ISO25,600, it rivals 35mm at ISO800 so long as you do not underexpose. Shooting in spotty light, I process my RAW exposures for each level and use layer masks to blend them together, rather than deal with the flat, harsh, ugly light of fill-flash. The key is to keep the histogram from hitting the right axis and blowing out the highlights. The D3/D700 sensor is very forgiving about shadow detail. If half the people on the street are in deep shadow, I can pull up all the detail needed, and still keep the feeling of naturally ambient lighting. Layers and masks give on ultimate control of the balance.
And when you look through the 100% vf of a d3 compared to the d700 it does make a difference. It just seems booger and brighter... Especially if like me you have a dk17m eyepiece ... It's an extra step toward that window like view you get through a medium format camera..
The prob with the d3 for me is the wieght - I have back problems....

Anyway, let's get back to the point...

Can anyone offer any more advice to someone wanting to spend £600 on a second hand nikon fit body?
And when you look through the 100% vf of a d3 compared to the d700 it does make a difference.

When shooting for an editor half-way around the world and shooting chromes, an accurate viewfinder is essential to make you look like less of an idiot, as well as letting the idiot editor crop your compositions as he learned in art school - having nothing whatever to do with the message of the image.

I often do not even use the viewfinder, shooting from the hip, so to speak. Once in the interpretation phase of the photographic process, the image itself tells me how it needs to be cropped. If the viewfinder shows me 90% or 110% of what the sensor sees, I really don't much sweat it. On the shoot, I am gathering the best raw material I can but the photograph is made in the interpretation stage.

I am sure every one here knows that Ansel Adams was as fine a concert pianist as he was a landscape photographer and darkroom maven. He said - in musical terms - that the exposure was the score and the print the performance. In our digital world, the print can also mean the web-page or digital slide show or whatever way we wish to present our work.

The quality of image that the D3/D700 sensor provides us allows great freedom in composition. Shooting wide, simply gives more elbow room. When we were dealing with rigid editors and unforgiving film, it was necessary to both sacrifice content for composition, and to fill the frame to the max so the weaknesses of film would not destroy our images on the printed page. This was vital with 35mm, which is why we so often shot medium format. However, this is 2010 - not 1975 - and the whole world has changed. What was common knowledge back then is the hang-ups of people who do not realize that the whole world has changed while they slept.
i am the first to admit hat i crop a lot ... especially with my wedding photography.. my end results are often, if not always 10x8 and despite the d3 having a 10x8 mode, i never use it.. like you i like to have the elbow room and often "see" in my desired format through the vf... some i call this cheating... i call it getting the shot without faffing... very important for reportage wedding photography...

my point about the vf is not so much its 100% but the side effect of that - its brighter and bigger... i manual focus quite a lot and despite the d3's focus screen being pretty much adiquate without any split screen referance, it is easier still with the dk17

im going to break this thread in 2 and call this convo d3/d700 pros and cons
Having room around the actual shot is certainly useful at times and of course this extra view is often what people like about rangefinders (assuming you are shooting 35mm or greater). I'm certainly not averse to cropping and you are right, sometimes the shot you want is contained within the shot you actually captured (either focal length or location may have prevented you grabbing the whole frame). The thing I like most about the D3 (and D700), however, is the quality of the images it captures, not so much in terms of resolution, but the look - dare I say it, almost film-like especially up at around 6400 ISO. I need no more than 12MP from a '35 mm' camera and the D3x doesn't appeal at all as it sacrifices the high ISO capability for 'resolution' and I don't need the speed of the D3s (or the amplified low light response). For higher resolution I always switch to digital capture on MF (or LF). It is really interesting when you compare the shots from say a 16MP digital back with a 39 x 39 mm sensor with the output of the D3. Edge resolution, gradation and tonal accuracy are noticeably superior on the MF back. When you go up to 39MP the output is simply astonishing. The lack of noise on these large sensors with their large pixels / low pixel density really shows.

Like you Hamish, I often use MF (more often than not in fact - it's what I'm more used to I guess). I have two D3's and interestingly one is more accurate than the other (I need to see if I can get it recalibrated by Nikon) - ie when you focus manually with one, it is pin sharp but the other body misses the mark. There's not a lot of in it but it does make a difference on full aperture when you are close to the subject. Of course you can alter the focus for the AF in-camera but the image plane of the screen and the sensor is obviously very, very slightly 'out' on one of the bodies. Despite this, I find the D3 very easy to focus manually thanks to the (relatively) bright full frame viewfinder and much more so than any APS/C sensor-based camera I have ever used (D2xs included). I don't miss a split screen and in fact I have changed all of my film Nikons to either plain or grid screens as I found the split distracting especially in low light ('blacking' out).

Hamish, have you ever checked the focus on your D3?
I haven't, but you know there is a function in one of the menus for fine tweaking the focus?
I haven't noticed any issue with focus, but then I haven't the second camera to compare...

I agree on the high iso grain being film like... Nikons concentration on reduction of croma noise and relativly speaking leaving a touch of luminance is one of the main factors that sets them apart from the competition in my eye

I actually don't have a medium format camera ... Or at least a "proper" one (I have a couple of folders) but I have used them on occasions and the experience was eye opening! I would love a mf digital back .. I cant even tell you how much... But ££ unfortunatly is a factor... One day though one day!
Unfortunately the menu function affects only the AF calibration not the relationship between the screen and the sensor. I think the only option is a return to Nikon (been meaning to for nearly a year now). When the viewfinder screen is adjusted to ones eye, and a subject is focused manually using the viewfinder, the image from one body is perfect and the other a bit short (only a mm or so at 1 m, but noticeably so on certain shots and damned irritating).

MF backs are certainly a pleasure to use but are not a replacement for a DSLR, especially when out and about. Great in the studio, or 'set' shots and for landscapes though. But how about a Leica S.... (just 6 numbers on that card is all it would take!!)
... Actually, I get your meaning, your talking about the focus screen being out the the sensor?

Yes,unfortunately. Had a similar problem with Hasselblad V bodies a while back. You need to tell Hasselblad you use a capture back when you send them in for service and they will use a tighter tolerance when the adjust the mirror and screen. Backs are less tolerant than film because the focal plane has no depth to it unlike the thickness of an emulsion.
It's an interesting subject this emulation thinkness... I haven't ever quite got my head round it... Is it the case that the flat surface of the sensor is what makes dslr's more susceptible to chromatic aberations? I have never found a description of this that I can quite get my head round ... Something to do with the wavelengths of light?
I was looking in my PDF manual but it kept leading me to the wrong page...
What is the perpous of af focus tuning?

If a lens - generally a third-party lens but not always - focuses ahead or behind the point where it should, this feature allows one to adjust it dead-on. Nikon warns that it is not to be used routinely and may have negative consequences. It can store up to 12 lenses.

I would think that one would be better off sending the lens and the body back to Nikon if there was a focus problem.