Challenging the D700 Replacement Logic

My comments about the D700 in my D600 review seem to have provoked the "Where's my D700 replacement" crowd into a rage. Why they're in a rage, I don't know, but they shouldn't be. 

Every time I challenge one of the folks that say the D800 wasn't the D700 replacement they wanted, one of two things ensues:

  • They misunderstand sensors.
  • They want 8 fps.

That's about it. So let's deal with those things.

If I'm making a 13" print (the largest a D700 can produce and still deliver 300 dpi to the printer), both the 24mp sensor in the D600 and the 36mp sensor in the D800 will produce better results, even at high ISO values. Why? Because sensor technology has moved on (twice since the D700) and the sensors are actually collecting more light in the same area now (D700 = 38% quantum efficiency with a maximum of 58,000 electrons per pixel, D600 = 53% QE with 76k e-, D800 = 56% QE with 45k e-). No matter how you crunch the numbers, you should get better looking 13" prints from the D600 and D800. And guess what, you do. 

So those of you thinking that Nikon didn't make a high ISO FX followup are wrong. They did. Two of them (three if you count the D4, but that's a different body size and price point).

Which brings us to 8 fps. First, let's be clear here. The D700 is a 5 fps body (the D600 is 5.5 fps, the D800 is 4 fps). To get 8 fps on the D700 you need the vertical grip and the right batteries. But let's look just a little closer at the full set of numbers. The D600 remains 5.5 fps with or without the grip. The D800 can hit 6 fps in DX mode with the grip. Both the D600 and D800 have less shutter lag and lower viewfinder blackout times than the D700, by the way, which I think have to factor into this discussion. 

So what the "Where's my D700 update" folk are really complaining about is this:

  • 12mp, 8 fps
  • 24mp, 5.5 fps (+12, -2.5), plus lower body build
  • 15mp, 6 fps (+3, -2), plus better focus system

I'm arguing that Nikon made a pretty rational choice, actually. The D800 is the D700 update, and you can get a few more megapixels at a couple less fps, but the darned camera focuses better in that configuration than the D700 does in bursts. A reasonable trade off in my mind, and the reason why I'm not one of the "Where's my D700 update" folk.

A lot of people are being influenced by something different than the reality of the facts. Many people who bought the D700 believed that they were getting "a cheap D3." Indeed, that's relatively true. Same sensor, same fps (with the grip), same menus/options, all with slightly different autofocus performance, though not enough to get excited over. The real complaint most of the "Where's my D700 update" folk seem to have is this: "Where's the low cost D4?" 

Okay, let's look at that for a minute. Is a D800 worse than a D4? Well, yes on frame rate, no on pixels. We're back to the same position we were in comparing the D700 and D800. Indeed, except for those times when I absolutely need high frame rates (which are rare), I prefer the more pixels of the D800, thus it's in my hands far more than my D4.

I'd actually argue that the real problem here is the missing D400 (DX sensor, 8 fps+). A D400, too, should be better than a D700 in that 13" print. Plus the D300, after all, was the original low cost pro body paired with the D3. If Nikon would actually produce the expected D400, I think a lot of the "nowhere to upgrade" discussion would just go away. You'd have three choices, each of which presents a slightly different balance, but one of which would surely have the one thing that you value most.

Basically, all this "Where's my D700 update" talk revolves around 8 fps (now actually 9 fps given the D4). For 8 fps to work well, so does the autofocus system. Viewfinder blackout is one of the reasons why I don't tend to use 8 fps (the blackout affects focus performance, even on the D4), but the other is simply this: when I shoot at 8 fps I'm almost always shooting fast moving objects, and thus am shooting at 1/500 or 1/1000. The question then becomes whether the "spray and pray" technique of just shooting a burst of frames is more or less likely to give you the image you want. As I've noted before, you're missing 492/500th's of the second at 8 fps. So the question is whether your personal response time can give you a finer discrimination of a moment than 1/30th of a second, which would be the worst case "miss" of 8 fps. My answer is yes. Almost always. Especially if I practice. 

As if by magic, an email hit my In Box as I was writing this article. The basic premise? That only 8 fps was going to give this person the chance to get that perfect moment when someone is shooting a 3-pointer jump shot (hands extended, ball just off them). Really? That's the only way? I don't think so. Moreover, this is something that you can actually easily practice: shoot the warm-ups! Work on your timing. There, you only need a 1 fps camera (technically, only a one-shot camera). Now, would you rather have 12mp, 24mp, or 36mp?

That's been my point. Moreover, I think that Nikon got the balance right on the D800 as an upgrade to the D700 (how often do you find me agreeing with Nikon decisions, lately? ;~). They gave up one parameter but boosted the camera in so many other ways I think that it's a perfectly fine D700 upgrade. But then again, remember my Last Camera Syndrome article last month? Maybe the D700 was your last camera if you really required an inexpensive 8 fps that can shoot indoor sports.

What I don't understand is what all the rage is about. A bit of disappointment, perhaps? Sure. Rage over +3mp, -2 fps? No. 

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