Nikon D700 for a Serious Amateur?

I’ve had more free time lately, so I’ve been photographing more often and also sorting and rating my photographs from the past 12 months.  In a sense I’ve been rediscovering my hobby, and I’ve started feeling the desire for a full-frame camera again: less DOF, better high-ISO performance, larger viewfinder, no conversion factor, etc.  Although 6 months ago I decided that I don’t need a full-frame body, I allowed myself to at least consider the alternatives and get informed.  Since size and weight matter to me, and I’ve never had much interest in Minolta or Sony, I’m left with two choices: Nikon D700 and Canon 5D mark II.

So I read up on the Nikon: the baby D3 is nevertheless big, heavy and expensive, but it’s very, very appealing.  It’s a true photographer’s camera: absolute top AF and high-ISO performance, excellent viewfinder, easy mirror lock-up, built-in viewfinder blind, etc, etc, etc.  For a moment I even considered switching from Canon to Nikon.  Now, this is all just a mental game, so I went through the exercise.

Only few things remained unchanged from the times of film, but the following truth still holds: choosing a camera body forces you to choose a camera system.  My current system consists of a wide-angle zoom, a normal prime, a portrait prime, a tele-zoom, a flash and a remote release, and I am a big fan of Canon’s f/4 zooms.  I’ve found the 17-40, 24-105 and 70-200 to hit the optimal compromise between size, weight, price and optical quality, and I was very disappointed to find out that all of Nikon’s high-quality FX zooms are f/2.8.  They might be better than Canon’s, especially the wide-angles ones, but the extra stop brings a along a huge penalty in size, weight and price.

Still, Nikon’s appeal was so strong, that I went to Calumet and played with a D700 and a 24-70/2.8.  Pretty quickly, with a pinch of regret and a huge sigh of relief, I decided that the combo is too large and heavy, too expensive to simply toss it in the trunk of the car, and the 24-70 is too short for a one-lens combination.

So while I find the D700 to be the perfect body for a serious amateur like me, the FX zooms are clearly “too professional” for me.  If Nikon made a series of f/4 zooms, my life would become very difficult, but as things are, I’m back to my three old options:

  1. stay with the Canon 40D and ignore full-frame for a few more years,
  2. add a Canon 5D and a 24-105/4 to my system, or
  3. add a Canon 5D mark II and a 24-105/4 to my system.

Alternative 1 is already very good, but alternatives 2 and 3 have the following advantages:

  • larger viewfinder and better high-ISO performance,
  • a perfect portrait system (less DOF),
  • extreme wide angle capability: 5D with 17-40,
  • 5D with 24-105 alone is good enough for most photographic situations, so I can carry less gear on non-photographic trips,
  • 5D with 24-105 and 40D with 70-200 give me continuous coverage from 24 to 320 mm (due to the 1.6 crop factor of the 40D), so I might never have to change lenses again!

The last two points are very important to me, because I’ve had problems with dust and missed shots in India, both due to constantly changing lenses.