My Six Months with a Nikon D700 After Switching From a Canon 5D II
It’s been six months now since I switched in earnest to Nikon after years of being a Canon shooter. After purchasing my D700 in July, I’ve been using it more and more as my primary camera. I wrote about my reasons for switching back in the summer, so I thought that, as it was new year’s eve, I would give you an update on how things went since then. I want to be as honest as I can, so if you’re a hardcore fan who doesn’t like to read anything negative about your favorite brand, you may not want to read this.
The Experience So Far
Since switching, I have had a bit of a rough time photographically. Firstly there was the weather. Our summer here in Ireland was particularly bad. It was regularly raining and miserable, and not exactly conducive to the type of photography I normally do. On top of that, I had a very heavy workload with my day job as a motion graphics artist, which left little time for photo taking. The point of telling you all this is not to elicit sympathy, but rather to point out that I didn’t have as much time to get out and get used my camera as I would have liked.
On top of that, the one event that I had that should have been an ideal opportunity to flex my photographic muscles was a trip to the US in september. Unfortunately, my allergies made me quite sick on arrival, and I spent most of the time feeling awful instead of enjoying and capturing the sights of New York and DC (although I did get still get some good photos there).
Despite all that I have been getting more and more time with the D700 lately and the more I spend with it the more I like it. I had originally switched back and forward between using the D700 and my 5D as I tried to compare the two. As is typical for me after making a large purchase, I went back and forward in my mind as to whether or not I had made a good decision. However, It just occurred to me yesterday as I was thinking about writing this piece, that I haven’t used my 5DII since september. I hadn’t even noticed that I no longer used it. I have become so accustomed to the D700 that I had completely forgotten about the 5DII.
So, with all that in mind, here are my thoughts on the experience so far.
As I had mentioned in my previous piece on switching, the first thing that strikes you, once you get used to it, is how much more user friendly the controls on the D700 are. Now that I’ve become fully accustomed to the way the controls are laid out on the Nikon, its operation has become second nature to me. It feels like an extension of my hand when I’m using it. I love how I can switch focus point selection with a flick of my thumb, or change metering mode without thinking twice. With the Canon, despite having used Canons for years, I still have to mentally stop and think when changing controls. With the Nikon it has become almost subconscious.
I really can’t stress enough how much of a difference this has made. I’m not trying to bash Canon here. I know some people love their Canons and think that the control layout is superior, but for me, it has been a world of difference. The Nikon gets out of the way when I’m taking a shot and becomes an extension of my vision. The Canon always felt like a stubborn partner who questioned everything I was doing when I was taking pictures with it. Again, that’s just my opinion. I know some people will vigorously disagree with that assessment.
Not all is rosy though. The D700 has a few issues of its own. For a start the dust removal system is not very good. Now, in fairness, it’s not particularly good on the 5D either, but it’s worse on the D700. It seems to deal with small particles fine, but larger specs of dirt don’t get removed. You would expect that it would be easier to remove larger particles with the vibration of the anti-aliasing filter than smaller ones, and yet the opposite seems to be the case.
In terms of the images themselves I have had a few issues, but to be fair, these are not failings of the camera. The biggest problem I had initially was working with the RAW files. I am primarily an Aperture user but I had been using Lightroom a good bit too. My initial evaluations suggested that Lightroom did a better job with RAW conversions. However, It soon became evident that Lightroom has a number of problems working with D700 files. If you have your camera set to 14bit NEF and you use the camera profiles in Lightroom (which you really have to use to get the colours reasonably right) you get purple banding and solarization on grey areas in Lightroom. This is a known bug, and yet despite the D700 being out for so long and despite the fact that the current version of Lightroom has been out for quite some time too, this bug remains unfixed. Adobe had posted beta profiles to their website, but this was at least a year ago, and there is no sign of them putting these out in the full release. In the end, I went back to Aperture, although that has some issues too. I’m pretty happy now with my workflow, but for a while it was challenging getting the best results, and it was impacting on my assessment of the camera.
Over all though, I’m continually impressed by the quality of images the D700 produces. Colours are rich and vibrant, and have a certain look that is really organic. At high ISO it is a remarkable camera. I don’t think I can overstate that. ISO 800 looks cleaner than ISO 200 on the Canon. Shadows are very clean and at higher ISO the noise is organic and film like. I even found a way to produce wonderful film like black and whites with the camera by using in camera JPEG and turning the ISO up. You get a beautiful and contrasty image with some nice subtle grain.
Lens wise I have been a little disappointed with some of Nikon’s offerings. If there is one major downside to Nikon’s full frame cameras compared to Canon’s it is that their lens selection isn’t at same level as Canon’s. I suspect this is because Canon has been producing full frame digital cameras longer than Nikon has. In particular I found their semi-pro F4 range a let down.
I got the 24-120 F4 after consulting several reviews online, and as an owner of the Canon 24-105 which is the Canon equivalent, I have to say, the Nikon is not in the same league. It’s not even the optical quality that I have the biggest problem with, although optically it’s not great either. The Nikon is a softer at 24mm but comparably sharp on the rest of the focal range. When you step down, unlike most lenses, the 24-120 doesn’t get any sharper. In fact, at f8 it’s about the same as f4. I thought I had a faulty model, but I sent a selection of images to Nikon and they claimed that it was within normal parameters for that lens. I found another review online which posted similar findings.
But the softness isn’t the biggest issue. The real problem is the build quality. It’s atrocious for the price range. The lens is plasticy and it feels cheap. It is of much flimsier construction than the Canon equivalent, yet it is more expensive. In fact, even Nikon’s own DX range of lenses seem better constructed.
Even that I could live with, but the biggest problem is the focus ring. It’s terrible. It is disconnected from the internal mechanism and floats on the barrel. When you turn it, it turns a degree before catching the mechanism below it. This makes fine focus adjustments very difficult. I was and I still am shocked at how bad it is. On the Canon 24-105 the focus ring is beautifully fluid and there is no lag between turning it and the underlying mechanism.
Other Nikon lenses I have suffer from the same issue to varying degrees. The 28-300 is a great lens for it’s versatility and range, and in some respects it is sharper than the 24-120, but it has the same crappy focus ring. Actually, it’s not quite as bad as the 24-120, but it’s still not a patch on any of the canon lenses I own in terms of build quality.
To be fair also, I haven’t tried any of Nikon’s high end pro lenses, such as the 24-70 and from what I’ve read these should be much better, but still. Considering how much the 24-120 and the 28-300 cost, you would think they could at least manage to get the focus ring not feeling like a cheap plastic afterthought.
Now if you’re thinking that my Nikon experience has been something of a bust on the lens front, it has one secret weapon that outweighs any of the build quality issue with their current lenses. Because Nikon never changed their lens mount when they switched to autofocus bodies, you can use any F-mount lens Nikon ever made. And they made some amazing lenses in their time. On top of that Nikon has an excellent focus assist in the viewfinder making it relatively easy to use their manual focus only lenses without having to install a different focus screen.
Some of Nikon’s old lenses are fantastic, and you can get them at varying prices on ebay. Almost all work with the D700 without requiring any adaptors or modification. Only pre AIS lenses require modification to work properly. I have a beautiful old 105mm macro lens that is stunningly sharp, and has a wonderful quality to the images it produces.
There are some amazing classics out there too that have great reviews. There is a 105mm 1.8 lens that is supposed to be stunning as well as some beautiful manual focus 50mm lenses that have qualities not found in their modern equivalents. While modern lenses may be sharp and clean and technically better, some of the older lenses have a wonderful quality to them that is organic, not clinical and beautiful in its own way.
Now, before I get move away from the subject of lenses, I just want to comment quickly on the 28-300. This is a great lens, especially if you do a lot of street photography. The versatility of having that large a focal range can’t be underestimated. It’s sharp too at most of it’s range. It gets a little soft at 300, but it’s still superb. It has some flaws, as you might suspect. Chromatic aberration is an issue, and distortion is pretty bad at either ends of the focal range. Considering what it is it’s a great lens.
While I’m still miffed at build quality of Nikon’s lenses, overall I’m very happy. When I pick up my Canon now, it feels clumsy and awkward to use. I love the quality of images the D700 produces, and I love the look of images I get with it.
Despite being Canon free for the last little while, I’m still in the process of transitioning. I hope to step up to the high end pro lenses this year, in particular the 24-70 f/2.8. Every review of the 24-70 say that it is stunning, so here’s hoping. I still have to get a flash too, and one of the thing’s I’m most excited about is finally getting to use Nikon’s “Creative Lighting System”. It was one of my primary reasons for switching in the first place. I had been waiting for the SB910 to become available, so I will probably get that and give it a go shortly.
I still have my Canon gear as I wanted to make absolutely sure I was happy before selling it. I had planned on keeping it for video, but since then I’ve acquired a Panasonic GH2 which for the kind of video I do, is far superior to the 5DII, but more on that in another post. I’ll give it another few months but I’m pretty much happy with the D700 now. And of course, if rumors are to be believed, the D800 is just around the corner.
I hope this somewhat extended ramble has been useful to someone, and at the very least was an interesting read. I’ll continue to post my experiences on this blog so stay tuned!