PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux


Thoughts on the D700

My collected thoughts on the D700 are mostly market/competitive comparisons. Not much speculation is needed because everything in the D700 is known technology, and that’s where most of my points come from. As usual Thom has well-collected thoughts too.

"The D700 is a D300 on FX."

When I imagined the D700 this way before, without guessing the name, I thought Nikon would cripple all performance features to keep it away from D3 customers. In the end they kept everything (if you get the optional grip), to the point where all you get for $2000 more is a voice memo feature, a 2nd memory card slot and a slight more water tightness.

In return the D700 ups the ante with a built-in wireless i-TTL flash commander and a self-cleaning sensor – who wants that voice recorder now? I’d say the D700 will lead sales now among most professionals, unless the D3 falls in price substantially and until a D3X launches. I wonder how viral the sale to amateurs will be as compared to the 5D wildfire, will switchers switch again?

"The D700 is a D3 for 40% less."

One interesting consequence of this is that the D700 comes out of the door with forceful momentum. In all the D3 tests we’ve read over the last year, the D3 is now a proxy for the D700. If it had been different it would have been an unknown quantity until tests showed up. Even the 5D Mk II will have to prove itself from the ground up unless it steals the 1Ds Mk III’s subsystems (now that would make an interesting move).

As well from comparisons we know the 1Ds Mk III is the only real competition out there. At first this competitor cost $3000 more, which lead some to cry foul either way, but now it costs $5000 more. Granted the 1Ds Mk III has some applications where it is superior by a comfortable margin, but you’ll note that a nearly complete Zeiss ZF outfit sits in this price gap (or any other lens outfit you’d like).

"The D700 captures high ground."

It’s a bit pricier, a bit larger and a bit heavier than everyone imagined. But it has no obvious attack angles. I think this is a smart move from Nikon, even if the asking price is high.

To successfully attack the D700 there are 3 options open to Canon:

  1. Invent something completely new and convince us all that it’s necessary going forward. [probability: 10%]
  2. Repackage the 1Ds Mk III or otherwise offer a marked resolution advantage at low ISOs. [probability: 30%]
  3. Undercut the $2999 price by a wide margin. [probability: 60%]

There are additional penalties to (1) because Nikon has done this twice without Canon’s match: the 3D tracking AF system is unique in the market and built-in wireless flash commanders come for free. Canon has so far been banking on superior sensors, ignoring most elses, which is a good strategy only so long as their sensors are untouchable (no longer the case) and most sensors aren’t “good enough” (I wager this is coming).

Now let’s go back to the original 5D design for a minute: this is essentially a 20D with a big sensor, minus flash. The gap between a 40D and (say) a D300 is fairly wide today, which is clearly reflected in the price. If Canon’s recipe were repeated today without an impressive new 50D to start from, it would have to be pitched as the “bargain FF”.

This is what I mean when I say the high ground is taken by the D700: Canon would be forced to strip the 1-series for parts in order to fight with it at eye-level. Historically they haven't shown the culture to do this.

A different recipe could be chosen, of course, so we still don’t know how Canon will play this round. One thing’s for sure, Canon rolled their dice long ago on this one, and there’s nothing they can do about it now except play with the price as needed. It’s unlikely Canon can stall D700 uptake given it goes on sale in just 3 weeks.

"The ultimate Zeiss DSLR."

This is a personal one, but the D700 looks to be the ultimate platform to shoot Zeiss ZFs. I’m looking forward to this shooter’s nirvana: heading out with 3 top-shelf primes in a small belt pack, confident the kit will come through to the extent that I will come through.

Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you about it in August.

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