Road Train !!!!!!!!!!

by Russell McMahon

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I started out with a canon crop DSLR and kit lens and am now looking to upgrade. I don't have a big budget so I was thinking of getting the Nikon D7000 because of its great reviews. Since I am not invested heavily in Canon switching is no problem. However, after looking around in the second hand market I also found there were D700 and D3 for a slightly greater price.

I know both of these cameras are a few years old and don't have video. But looking from a purely still camera pov, what would I be missing in these older models compared to the lesser but newer models? Would you still consider them (esp the D3) a good buy compared to D7000 or D300s. I know they are FF and these are crop bodies. So, is that enough of an advantage over the new advancements?

Edit: I am mostly interested in Nature and Landscape photography along with the occassional street photography I do when travelling to other countries. So, I am mostly using the wide or short telephoto range. I am looking to build my gear now with better glass and a more weather sealed body.

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4 Answers 4

Apart from the raw number of pixels, the ability to make practical use of the cheaper DX lenses, and a loss of apparent magnification with any given lens, you lose nothing.

Raw pixel numbers are only really meaningful if you customarily make very large prints (or do all of your composition by cropping in post). Even at that, the difference between, say, 12MP and 16MP isn't all that much, and there is some leeway in terms of pixels per inch that will create good prints; you'd need to step up to the 24+ MP class before you can really go places you can't go with 12MP.

You can use DX-format lenses on the FX (full-frame) cameras, but you're restricted to using the center of the sensor and only get about a 5MP image. That's good enough for the web, but not for a whole lot else. On the other hand, almost all of Nikon's high-quality lenses will cover the full-frame image.

The loss of magnification, though, can be a real issue, depending on the type of photography you do. If you rely on long lenses (for sports or wildlife, for instance), then the 1.5x crop factor of the DX (APS-C) cameras can save you a considerable bundle (with the penalty of a slightly greater depth of field, equivalent to stopping down one stop). On the other hand, if you tend to shoot wide, you get more bang for your buck with a full-frame camera.

That said, almost everything else is a plus. The D700 and, to an even greater extent, the D3 have much better handling from a pure photographer's point of view. There are no entry-level hand-holding features to speak of, but for someone who wants to take full control of the camera, everything is right to hand—there's not a lot of digging through menus to get where you're going; everything has dedicated buttons and knobs.

Because the sensel sites on the sensor are bigger, you get a wider real dynamic range and much smoother tonality (there isn't nearly as much quantization noise because the individual samples are much larger—the samples are statistically much more likely to represent the data stream, the impinging photons, more faithfully). You can count on getting a full stop better noise floor (for a given sensor generation; sensels that are twice as big are twice as likely to be struck by photons even in shadow areas). So even with a reduction in the number of pixels (compared to the D7000), you will get better image quality from a tonality standpoint.

The larger sensels also have another effect on image quality: lenses don't have to be quite as acutely sharp in order to render detail. A lens that would test as borderline mushy on a D7000 or D800 (which have approximately the same sensel density) can appear to be tack-sharp on a D3/D3S or a D700. As with the reduced quantization noise, this will give you better subjective image quality, and may be more important to your final image than the number of raw pixels you can capture.

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It is quite hard to point out any certain features without knowing why are you looking to upgrade, nor what kind of photos do you take.

Obviously, you might miss the longer reach (at same focal length) and low weight of a smaller-sensor body and lenses. The D700 and D3 are meant for professional users, so they miss some features meant to help a consumer, like scene modes, and you won't find popup flash on a D3.

I doubt you'd miss the resolution to be beyond 12MP. While Compact Flash cards may arguably have some advantages, you can't just pop them into almost any modern laptop - you must have a card reader or camera cable at hand.

A recent advantage missing from those bodies is Quiet Mode, which significantly reduces audible noise created when taking a photo.

These bodies were high-end flagships, and certainly not worthless today. I was considering switching to a second-hand D700 when upgrading half a year ago, but the price was way over my budget back then.

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D3! D700! Wow! :-)
If you care about high ISO low noise photography or high shutter speed "sports" photography then these are still close to the very best.
Very few cameras so far exceed them in these respects.

If you don't care greatly about either of the above factors then other aspects may make more modern choices preferable. The D3 is big and heavy. The full frame format is demanding on lens performance. You can use APSC crop mode but get 6 Mp images. D7000 noise performance is amazing for the $. D300s is "very nice" in many aspects.

I have a Sony A77, APSC. Compared to a D700 which has inferior specs in the following areas it has 24/12 megapixels, up to 12/8 frames / second, panorama mode/-, 1080p video/none, and a lot more. I'd happily swap it for a D700 in equivalent condition as the D700 more closely meets my requirements. I'd consider the D3, despite it being 'somewhat larger' than I'd prefer. (FWIW a 2nd hand D700 sells for more than a new A77 and a used D3 for about 2x).

So I would buy the D700.
Your choice may vary.

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If someone has the budget for a used D3, they should get the D3 :) –  Itai Jun 12 '12 at 21:11

Bearing in mind you wish to do nature and landscapes - I'd vote for the D700. The added field of view that you will get with a full frame camera will definitely help you out there.

The D3 is overkill for what you want, aimed squarely at pro photographers.

The D7000 is truly an awesome camera - and if you were doing sports or anything like that I'd say go for that one - as the extra reach of the crop sensor would help you out.

Get the D700. Get a 24mm lens and marvel at how W I D E it is. I just upgraded to FF from crop and it's really an incredible difference

Not sure if I misunderstand someones comment above but you can indeed use DX lenses on FX cameras in Nikons range - they automatically crop down and with D700 at least - you get new framelines in the viewfinder to show what will be captured. Very clever. Can't do that with Canon... (booo --- I'm a Canon shooter lol).

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The D3 is an awesome camera, plus it shows you what you will shoot, something that the D700 cant do. Both Nikon and Canon corrected with their latest compact full-frame but the previous models were embarrassing. –  Itai Jun 12 '12 at 21:09

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