Monday, May 30, 2011

Nikon D700 Running Review: Live View


When the D700 launched in summer, 2008, live view in dSLRs was still a bit of a novelty, having only found widespread acceptance the year before after Canon included the feature on its flagship dSLR: the 1D Mark III. With Canon now in the live view game (Olympus was the first), everyone else soon followed suit. The once bashed gimmick had turned into an industry standard.

So, what of live view on the D700?

Well, being someone who had only experienced live view with a P&S cam, it is a bit awkward. First up, one has to put the camera into live view mode (no big shock there), but the “fun” of sorts starts once live view is enabled. The first thing you'll notice is that, when the camera is set to live view, the rear LCD doesn't automatically illuminate, one has to press the shutter button half way (as in regular AF) to do this. Once done, the mirror lifts, the viewfinder goes dark, and the screen pops on to give a remarkable live image in all its 920,000 pixel glory. Now, with the live view mode going, one uses the 'AF-ON' button on the back of the camera to focus the image.

Speaking of live view AF, it's nothing to write home about. In standard mode (the other option will come later), the contrast detect AF, while accurate, is all over the board when it comes to speed. Sometimes as “quick” a any common P&S cam and at other times as painfully slow as the Moon coming up (as an astronomer, I've seen a lot of rising Moons!). When talking slow, I mean that AF can be seriously sloooooooowwwwwww, as in taking several seconds to find focus. Another annoying trait of the D700's contrast detection AF is its tendency to go past focus and then have to correct. Again, though, when locked, AF is always spot-on, but the once in a lifetime photo-op is more than likely a thing of the past.
Okay, back to the process. Once focused, one has to press the shutter button all the way to snap the picture, as normal. However, when one snaps the picture, the screen goes dark rather than coming right back on as it would do with a P&S camera. If wanting to continue in live view, one has to repeat the process all over again. In the end, the D700's live view mode is definitely nowhere near as convenient as that on a P&S cam and, when combined with the sometimes painfully slow AF, becomes more of a liability than a benefit when shooting anything where time is even of the slightest concern.

Now to the alternate live view focusing method.

In standard (Hand-Held) mode, the live view displays the whole image when focusing. However, there is another method to AF, which one has to select via the menu. Designed for tripod use and named accordingly (Tripod Mode), the second focus mode allows you to zoom into the image (up to a 13x view) when in the act of focus. In AF, focus is still insanely slow at times. On the other hand, the zoomed in view really comes into its own when focusing manually on a stationary subject. In fact, this method is the one I always leave the camera set to as I find manual focus with magnification a lot faster to focus than the AF in live view mode. As an astrophotographer, this is a dream come true when focusing on stars through a telescope where there is no focus confirm in the viewfinder thanks to a lack of electronic communication between camera and 'lens.' Want proof? Check out the below photo of the Moon, focused live at full 13x magnification. Also, any birder who uses astronomical telescopes will find this function immensely useful when trying to get perfect focus for a bird sitting in a tree.

 The full view.


At about 13x magnification,  boon for astrophotographers!



Bottom line: the live view of the D700 is a double-edged sword. First up: the bad. AF in live view mode is terrible, the camera is practically unusable. The good news: the D700's 920,000 dot LCD screen provides stunning details when used in live view and, this coupled with the ability to zoom in as one focuses manually, makes the live view great for anyone photographing stationary, far-away subjects.


More on the D700:
Build Quality
User Interface



 

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