Recently, I’ve started shooting events for the amazing and inspiring organization Sing for Hope. They’ve asked me to be their “photographer in residence” and it’s turning out to be a perfect fit. They are the ones responsible for the Pop Up Pianos that have dotted the five boroughs each summer over the last two years. As it turns out, they do much more than that. They have a ridiculously talented roster of artists who perform at schools, hospitals, health care facilities…really, anywhere that people could benefit from music and art. They are a total inspiration to me.
After shooting two events with them using my Nikon D90 and a Sigma 30mm f1.4 lens, I realized that I needed better low light performance to capture the photographs I need to showcase their work. So, I’ve taken this opportunity (excuse really) to upgrade our D90 to a Nikon D700. The D90 is a perfectly capable camera if you keep it below 1000 ISO. Above that, the photos get too noisy for my taste. I’ve always heard that the D700 lets you shoot without impunity up to 6400 ISO. That’s attractive to me. Also attractive is that it’s a full frame camera, much more like a 35mm film SLR than a cropped sensor DSLR. This is important to me since I’m used to shooting with film in at least a 35mm format, though normally medium or large format. I’m used to big files. And a cropped digital sensor camera has always felt like a compromise. Enter the D700…
To complement it I picked up two Nikkor lenses, a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AF D and a Nikkor 85mm f1.4 AF D. Between these two lenses I get a normal view for action/environmental type shots and a portrait lens to isolate individual performers. I knew the lenses would be great, but I didn’t expect how much I would like the D700 over the D90.
I’ve already mentioned the full frame sensor (D700) compared to the cropped sensor (D90), which means that a 50mm lens is actually 50mm. That’s a nice advantage. But the D700 is also much heftier and substantial in my hands. It feels solid, much like an old Nikon FM2n. It’s less plastic feeling than the D90. The controls are also laid out in a much more logical, professional manner. The dedicated ISO button on the top is a plus and I like that the window on the top shows the metering as you are changing aperture and shutter speeds. This way I can begin metering and adjusting settings as I’m bringing the camera to my eye. The viewfinder seems more spacious and bright too. That viewfinder features 51 auto-focus points versus 11 auto-focus points on the D90. It’s also seems easier to toggle to the point you want to focus on with the D700. As with everything else it just seems more accessible, quicker, and more reliable.
Another huge difference between the D90 and the D700 is the maximum shutter speed – 1/8000 for the D700 versus 1/4000 for the D90. You can shoot wide open in broad daylight without worrying about adding an ND filer. But the biggest difference that I’ve already mentioned is the ISO performance. With the D90, I was always worried about shooting indoors in low light. I knew darker areas would show telltale noise artifact. My first shots at home with the D700 were cranked up to 3200 and then 6400 ISO just to see how bad noise was. There was barely any noise. It was ridiculous. A pal on Twitter called the D700 an ISO monster – that’s an apt moniker for this camera.
I’ve shot less than 50 frames over the last two days with this camera, but I’m already in love with the way that it feels in my hands, the way it responds to commands, and the files that it delivers straight out of the camera on JPEG settings. It’s never going to replace the work I do with my Hasselblad or 4×5 cameras, but it will be an excellent workhorse camera.