Nikon D700 Digital SLR Camera hands-on preview
I went today to my local dealer here in Germany to pre-order a D700 and to my surprise they had a (production) D700 for presentation purposes. So I did a short hands-on mainly to check the ergonomic differences between the D700 and my D300. I share my first findings and thoughts here.
When holding the D700 it feels like a D300, I didn't notice any weight or size differences. I know there is a difference, but the impression was quite possitive.
Nikon seems to have borrowed the CF-door design from the Canon 5D. You do not have to turn a lever any more like on the D300, the CF-door just opens when you pull the door towards you. From a usability point-of-view this is much better than the D300 solution, but from a stability point-of-view this implies that the door has a very little more play than before. All-in-all the Nikon implementation is by far better than the 5D one - the CF-door was terribly loosy on the 5D and this was very annoying from day one till today.
The free room available on the previous position of the CF door lever is now used with the info-button. The info button (used to activate the back LCD settings display while shooting) was not well accessible on the D300, as you have to many buttons (5) to the left of the LCD and when you don't have enough light to see them it was hit and miss.
I still find it annoying to have 5 buttons to the left of the LCD, it's just not good for working blindly (whithout looking at them). The menu button would be better placed where the new info-button is placed (on the right side of the LCD), so you would be able to activate the menu and change the settings with the thumb of your right hand. Also, having 2 zoom-in/zoom out buttons is a waste and complicates things. Why not doing something like the D3 solution, but implemented in a better manner (zooming-in when pressing the left button + turning the rear wheel, instead of displaying a frame border of the projected zoom-ratio until you release the left button of the D3).
The covers for the external connections on the front of the body (remote-control etc.) are much better than the ones of the D300. They are now very easy to open (before it was a real strugle to get them off), and they have now more space between them, which makes it much easier to re-attach them.
Also the left cover (HDMI etc.) now opens and specially closes much easier than on the D300, where closing was quite difficult and required several corrections until it was really closed.
The four-way control seems to be borrowed from the D3. It's nice to see it has a center button (which the D300 missed), but I didn't like the 4-way control at my first use. It has too much play and it didn't react as I wanted (pressed left some times, but apparently it was going down). Maybe I need a little practice. Also the center button did not feel as nice as I hoped.
From my perception the viewfinder is brighter than the D300s. I must admit I really enjoyed the view - it's not just the brightness, there is something about full frame that cannot be described in words. I tested the D700 with a Micro Nikkor 60/2.8D. The green viewfinder settings appeared to be a little brighter than the D300s ones, maybe because of the smaller magnification of the view (the green digits also appeared to be a little smaller). All-in-all the round viewfinder looks beatiful to me, and the integrated switch for closing the viewfinder is also a nice addition. I tested the viewfinder wearing my glasses and had no problems to read the displays and see the complete image.
To flatten the ongoing 95% viewfinder discussions: In my opinion the 95% of the FX (D700) looks *much better* than the 100% of the DX (D300) body - and the D300 viewfinder is actually quite good. The only moment where you could miss the 5% is on tripod (studio) work in case you need a very precise view to allign the borders on something. But probably live view would be much better suited for this type of work anyway, and on live view you have 100% coverage (as far as I know).
The viewfinder diopter adjustment lever is positioned on the top/right side of the viewfinder and - most importantly - you have to pull it before you can turn it. This is a very good thing, as you cannot accidentally turn it like on the D300. It is much easier than on the D300 to find out how to "center" it at 0 diopters. My eyes have -6.5 diopters, the max. negative diopter adjustment for the D700 seemed to be at about -4 diopters or so (I still wonder why those adjustments cannot go further). And turning the diopter lever is much easier than the D300s one, which can additionally get extremely stiff over time.
The external flash shoe comes with a plastic insert that protects the contacts and probably also helps not to get cloth parts caught on it (something the D300 was missing).
Shutter noise is different than on the D300, the D700 sound has a higher frequency when the mirror hits the top/bottom. I would assume that a higher frequency means the shutter noise is louder than before, but I did not test it side by side with a D300 (it could in fact be the other way around).
I really would like to see a theater mirror mode - as my paid work is done in theaters and there are situations where you cannot make noise. One frame per second would be more than enough in this mode. I even wonder why there is no live view mode without mirror slap-down and up. This would at least offer one silent mode (although this would not help in my case, as contrast AF only works in good light and with tripod mode).
Final note (to flatten dealer-pushed pre-order and sales histeria): My dealer told me - based on direct informations they got from Nikon - that they will have enough bodies available on the scheduled dates. They don't see a bottleneck like the one that happened with the D3.