In the 2000s, camera makers like Nikon and Canon introduced digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) equipped with so-called full-frame sensors, imaging sensing devices that were the same size as an antiquated piece of 35mm film.
I have one such digital SLR, the Nikon D700. It is a professional machine on every level, from build quality to image quality. It is big, heavy, and built like a tank. It is so heavy, in fact, that I am a little glad I don’t use it every day at work. My D300Ss are heavy enough, but don’t begin to challenge the D700.
Much of the weight of cameras like this is one reason mirrorless cameras are overtaking DSLR sales. Combined with better electronics systems that can be made lighter and faster-operating, mirrorless does away with all the mechanics of the mirrors and pentaprisms.
A deceptive concept about formats is that larger formats exhibit “better” selective focus in the form of shallower depth of field. But the truth of this is buried in marketing and the internet. Depth of field isn’t controlled by format size, but by aperture and magnification. Larger-format afficianatoes don’t seem to understand that when shooting with a camera like the D700 with the same lens they might have on a smaller-format camera, they have to move closer to fill the frame with the same subject. That’s what makes depth of field shallower, not the size of the sensor.
I had this discussion not long after I bought my D700. You can read it here (link).
The D700 was one of Nikon’s earliest moves into the 36x24mm sensor market, and despite having been replaced by numerous newer models, the D700’s build and reputation create a higher than average cost on the used market.
Taking the idea of “full-frame” another step, we ask, “Is full-frame digital better than a full frame of 35mm film.” The answer overwhelmingly yes. Properly implemented, digital photography in general is far better than film photography: less noise, less risk, less waste, less time, more sharpness, better color, and on and on. (Coming soon: why the resurgence of film is folly.)
When I grab my D700, which usually has a larger lens on it, I feel it immediately. All that brass and glass tugs at my elbow and shoulder and reminds me why I try to lighten my load when I am able.
While I was writing this, I handed the D700 with the 28-70mm f/2.8 on it to my wife Abby, and she exclaimed, “Oh, my gosh, it must weigh 50 pounds!”
Files from the D700 are smooth, sharp and low-noise, and even with RAW file compression turned on, have a remarkable amount of color data. Despite the size and weight, the D700 has never let me down, and I hope to continue to make great images with it for the foreseeable future.